Ashland’s Little Shop of Bagels stocked local grocery shelves for more than 25 years before owner Francesca Fericano woke up to a better way of doing business.
Wake-N-Bagels, produced in small batches in Medford, are the first ready-to-bake bagel sold in freezer sections throughout Oregon. By summer, the brand will go into freezer cases at Whole Foods, increasing its exposure across the Pacific Northwest.
“This was our solution to bring our product to people and have it be fresh,” says Angelina McClean, vice president of Wake-N-Bagel.
McClean’s mother, Fericano, had been dreaming of Wake-N-Bagel for years. But it took several summers of diminished tourism in Ashland amid wildfire smoke, followed by the pandemic’s crushing impact on food service, to spur her to perfect Wake-N-Bagel for grocery distribution. Fericano, 63, cites a gas leak in 2019 that prompted the purchase of several toaster ovens for Little Shop of Bagels as a sign her idea was solid.
McClean, 40, recalls telling her mother: “You’re crazy. That’s not gonna work.”
“You got frozen pizza,” replies Fericano. “You got frozen croissants.”
And those ranks now include frozen Wake-N-Bagels in plain, onion and “Hiker,” also widely known as “everything” bagels. Each box of four has a suggested retail price of $7.99 to $8.99.
“When you get one that’s fresh out of the oven, it’s so different than one that’s been sitting for a couple of hours,” says McClean.
Managers for Market of Choice — the latest to stock Wake-N-Bagel — agree, calling it “unique to the category.”
“Wake-N-Bagel is frozen fresh, and you bake it yourself,” says Deby Maus, Market of Choice’s grocery deli, dairy and frozen sales manager. “This gives you a much fresher product, and your house smells like fresh-baked bread!”
“Some people were doing it for Thanksgiving brunch and holidays and weekends,” says McClean, adding that some customers have called it “genius.”
Fans can still get bagels freshly baked from Fericano and McClean, slathered in cream cheese, hummus, jam and other spreads. The original Ashland Street shop and the Medford expansion on Delta Waters Road serve breakfast and lunch sandwiches, as well as frozen Wake-N-Bagels at a discounted $6.50 per box. The product’s growing availability at grocery stores is introducing new clientele to the bagel shops, rather than discouraging customers from coming in person, says McClean.
“It seems to actually be good advertising for us in a way.”
Business at both shops was cut approximately in half during the height of the pandemic, says McClean. Both operations dramatically pared down their menus but offered takeout and online ordering at ashlandlittleshopofbagels.com. Wake-N-Bagel opened in August as a takeaway storefront with no seating, six months after the mother-daughter team signed their lease.
“It was very stressful,” says McClean of the pandemic’s effect on business. “Just the hardest thing we ever went through.”
Industry acknowledgment, however, buoyed the outlook for Wake-N-Bagel. The Hiker won the Specialty Food Association’s “gold sofi” and “new product” awards in the breads category. Scored by blind tasting, more than 1,800 products were submitted for the 2020 competition, feted at the organization’s annual Fancy Food Show.
The honor propelled Wake-N-Bagel from a just a handful of independently owned stores to Market of Choice, which started selling it in March, followed by Washington’s Metropolitan Market and, in June, Whole Foods, says McClean.
Producing all Wake-N-Bagels at the Medford bakery, staff can prepare — and package by hand — about 2,200 bagels in a day, says McClean. The next flavor, raisin-cinnamon, will add another piece to the production line by this summer.
“It’s an artisan product,” says Fericano. “It’s a lot of work.”
To avoid growing pains, Wake-N-Bagel will pursue more accounts at independent retailers for the time being, says McClean. Moving into Northern California would require a larger production facility, she says.
Although the company has 15 employees between both locations, most work in the Ashland shop, says McClean. Now when the town’s tourists ask where they can get the Little Shop’s bagels, she says, the answer is “in the freezer.”