Friday, June 2, 2023

Coronado Residents are the Dynamic Duo behind the Success of Big City Bagel Company

Jennifer Reynolds and Kristee Gilbert are the owner-operators of BCB, Company in Hillcrest, California.

In the early 1990’s, after earning a degree in Political Science and Criminology, Kristee Gilbert was at a crossroads. She was working in politics and her best friend, Jennifer Reynolds, was working at the San Diego Zoo. They both had jobs, but they didn’t necessarily love what they were doing. Kristee’s parents were successful business owners and her brother worked in finance. She knew that it was time to either go back to school or open her own business. At only 23 years old, she asked her 21-year old best friend, Jennifer, to be her partner. The rest, two decades later, is a wonderful success story.

Kristee discovered bagels when she was in college, working at a bagel shop on the East Coast. Opening a bagel shop seemed like a good idea and San Diego seemed like a good place. The two women visited locations all over San Diego County and kept coming back to their current location in Hillcrest. They were both drawn to the people and the community.

Kristee began researching bagel shops and franchises. Her brother saw an ad for Big City Bagels on an airplane flight. Bagel Boss, a mom and pop bagel shop in Long Island, NY, franchised their product and brought it to the West Coast with all their recipes. “We tasted their bagels and liked what we tasted,” shared Kristee. “We were the first franchisee of BCB.” BCB taught Kristee and Jennifer how to make bagels and three years after opening, the parent company decided to quit the business. They released their franchises to become independent entities. There may be other independent Big City Bagel shops around, but the one in Hillcrest was always the only one in San Diego.

“We have seen six bagel shops come and go in the last 20 years within a mile of us,” shared Kristee. Both women attribute their success and longevity to being owner operators. They not only own the business, but they work in it five days a week.
When they opened in December 1994, they had three employees and operating hours from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. Jennifer shares, “We were a little naïve. We had it in us, but we didn’t really know what it took to run a business.” Kristee added, “We were going to succeed no matter what, we willed it to be a success.”

Since those first days years ago when they were working seven days a week, sometimes only sleeping three hours a night and taking turns watching each others’ children so one of them could work, much has changed. In the beginning, they were a bagel and sandwich shop. They have expanded their menu to include crepes, a full espresso bar and full fresh juice and smoothie bar. The operating hours have changed to 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and may extend to focus on the dessert crepes and coffee/espresso bar in the near future. Kristee and Jennifer recently rebranded their business BCB Company. The new name encompasses the Hillcrest shop, but also represents the five coffee carts they run at San Diego State University.

The addition of new items has been an evolution as the business has grown. After 12 years of running the shop in Hillcrest, Kristee and Jennifer opened their five coffee carts at SDSU. “We make our dough and bake the bagels here,” said Jennifer. All the food sold on the carts is made in the Hillcrest location and delivered fresh each morning to the university. There are managers at each location, Hillcrest and SDSU, but Monday through Friday Kristee or Jennifer can be found at one of the locations.

They are open every day of the year except Christmas day and are a 24-hour business. There is always something brewing or baking at BCB Company. They aim to use quality ingredients, featuring Boar’s Head meats for their sandwiches and Café Moto coffee (a local San Diego roaster). BCB Company also wholesales to colleges, coffee houses and hotels in San Diego. The ladies explained that the wholesale is an entirely different side of the business; it’s what happens at night.

Kristee and Jennifer both love living in Coronado and working in Hillcrest. They run together every morning before work. It’s kind of like their business meeting because they usually work at separate sites. Jennifer appreciates the sense of community in Coronado and loves knowing her neighbors and being able to surf, go out to eat, “Everything we love to do is right there!” They drive across the bridge every day, but Kristee says, “My favorite part is being at the top of the bridge coming home.”

Kristee and her family love the July 4th parade on Coronado. She has two sons who play football and loves going to the Friday night CHS football games. Her “go to” restaurant is Saiko Sushi. Jennifer says she loves Leroy’s and Tartine (which also serves Café Moto coffee). Jennifer’s family enjoys the ritual of the July 4th parade, getting up early and going down for the parade. “I love that the City gets into everything!”

The ladies point out that after all this time as business partners; they are still the best of friends. One of the biggest challenges of owning their business is that 24 hours a day something is happening. Managing employees keeps them busy as well. They have grown from having that small team of three workers back in 1994 to 65 part time employees. Managing the schedules of all those people can be time consuming.

Kristee says, “Our business relationship has worked so well. I couldn’t ask for a better business partner. It’s been the best thing we could have done and it’s made the entire experience worth it. I don’t think either of us could have done it on our own.” “Or with a different person,” adds Jennifer.

The BCB Company shop is less than fifteen minutes from Coronado (without traffic) and offers some very delicious fare. Jennifer favors the Hummus melt which features hummus, avocado, onion and Muenster cheese on the bagel of your choice. Kristee likes the 5th Avenue sandwich, which is an open-faced bagel with garlic herb cream cheese, turkey, bacon, avocado and melted Muenster cheese on the bagel of your choice. They say the most popular crepe is “The Roosevelt”, featuring egg, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, spinach and cheddar and Swiss cheese.

The Hillcrest location recently went through a total remodel. They gutted the entire place and had it up and running again in five days. Make sure you put February 8, 2015 on your calendar. There will be a 20th Anniversary party at the Hillcrest location.

BCB Company is worth a visit and a revisit. Kristee and Jennifer are intelligent, friendly, driven women and the success of their business is testament to their hard work, enthusiasm, persistence, and heart. Once you’ve eaten here, you will want to return.

BCB Company
1010 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103

Kellee Hearther

Staff Writer

If you have something you would like to read about, please contact us.