— July 2012, Oakland
It is a feeling unique to writers of zeitgeisty fiction, and maybe there ought to be a long German word for it: anger at the real world for outpacing your publication date. If you could transcribe it, the feeling would go something like this: Arghhh couldn’t you have waited just a few months to reveal this technology? To get interested in this trend? This idea? In a few months, my book would already be out, and I would get credit for being so prescient!
It’s an absurd feeling, of course, because writers aren’t any more prescient, as a rule, than entrepreneurs or designers or anyone else with an interest in the zeitgeist. It’s just a lot easier to describe a new technology—or any new idea, really—than it is to actually implement it, so writers sometimes get there first.
Sometimes, but not always.
On the second page of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore—which will be published in October—you read about NewBagel, a fictional food startup intent on using new techniques to produce the perfect bagel:
I was unemployed, a result of the great food-chain contraction that swept through America in the early twenty-first century, leaving bankrupt burger chains and shuttered sushi empires in its wake.
The job I lost was at the corporate headquarters of NewBagel, which was based not in New York or anywhere else with a tradition of bagel-making but instead here in San Francisco. The company was very small and very new. It was founded by a pair of ex-Googlers who wrote software to design and bake the platonic bagel: smooth crunchy skin, soft doughy interior, all in a perfect circle. It was my first job out of art school, and I started as a designer, making marketing materials to explain and promote this tasty toroid: menus, coupons, diagrams, posters for store windows, and, once, an entire booth experience for a baked-goods trade show. I’d been moving fast. First, one of the ex-Googlers asked me to take a crack at redesigning the company’s logo. It had been big bouncy rainbow letters inside a pale brown circle; it looked pretty MS Paint. I changed it a newish typeface with sharp black serifs that I thought sort of evoked the boxes and daggers of Hebrew letters. It gave NewBagel some gravitas and it won me an award from San Francisco’s AIGA chapter. Then, when I mentioned to the other ex-Googler that I knew how to code (sort of), she put me in charge of the website. So I redesigned that, too, and then managed a small marketing budget keyed to search terms like “bagel” and “breakfast” and “topology.” I also ran the NewBagel account on Twitter and attracted a few hundred followers with a mix of breakfast trivia and digital coupons.
In a Wired story by Ryan Tate—published today—you read about a real food startup intent on using new techniques… to produce… the perfect bagel:
When Dan Graf got interested in the finer points of bagel making, he was told to pay tribute to his culinary elders, as done by his bosses and his bosses’ bosses before them.
Graf’s boss’s boss, cooking icon Alice Waters, put in time in the global cuisine capital of Paris before creating Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Graf’s boss and Waters’s former cook Peter Levitt, in turn, made a pilgrimage to the iconic delis of New York before taking over Saul’s, a delicatessen a few doors down from Chez Panisse. After working as a cook and deli manager at Saul’s, Graf was likewise encouraged by Levitt to “stage” with a longtime New York bagel producer and learn the old methods of poached bread.
Graf had other ideas. Rather than bowing to tradition, the 27-year-old former genetics major dove into online forums, scoured research, and embraced analytical lab techniques, emerging from his basement-apartment kitchen with a bagel that combines a uniquely crisp and blistered crust with a rich and chewy interior redolent of the best bagels in and around Graf’s native New Jersey. Less than a month from launch, Graf’s one-man company Baron Baking is selling to three different San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, building buzz in the local press, and pleasing a fan base of local gourmands and restaurant owners. Lower East Side bagel elders be damned.
You win this round, real world. You win this round.
(In other news, I am totally going to serve Graf’s bagels at a Penumbra party.)
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