Doralee Jacobson

The owner of Jack’s Bistro & Bagels, Doralee Jacobson, spills the tea on business with CVN columnist Megan Waldrep.

While some businesses struggle to stay afloat, others hit a home run right off the bat. That’s the story with Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels, one of Carpinteria’s most popular gathering spots. Loyal customers make weekly, daily and twice daily visits to the Carpinteria Avenue location, indulging in homemade bagels and an extensive deli menu. But get ready for the story of how they’ve stayed in business—it’s one to really sink your teeth into.   

Doralee Jacobson and her husband Henry had no experience with restaurants when they first decided to enter the bagel business. Doralee is a former New York chiropractor, and Henry was a former Madison Avenue advertising executive. Though the Jacobsons lacked experience, their time in New York meant they knew a few things about the city’s well-known bagels.

Along with two business partners who had previous experience in the restaurant industry, the Jacobsons opened the first location of Jack’s Bagels on Milpas Street in 1995. By all accounts, it was a huge success. Lines wrapped around the building and they could hardly keep up with demand. Three years later they cut the ribbon on the Carpinteria Avenue location, and a little over 10 years after, Jack’s Bagels transformed into Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels, offering an expanded menu for breakfast and lunch. Today, they also provide an extensive catering service.  

With a successful launch right out of the gates, Jacobson admits, “You have to have a product that people want to buy. Somehow, you have to figure out a product that people want.”

Though Doralee says she acted as a fly-on-the-wall in the beginning, before she knew it, business started to shift and she took full ownership. When her husband Henry passed away Doralee’s next move was to take full control, buying out one owner and ousting the other for mishandling the books.   

Though grieving, scared and a bit intimidated, Doralee kept going. “I think what saved me was I had a friend who was a successful business woman and she recommended a good accounting system,” said Doralee. “I was able to keep track of our inventory, sales, and (income). And that probably saved us.”

At first, Doralee admits they didn’t have much of an accounting system in place. It took her a while to get the hang of the new system and, although her and her team are still challenged at times, “the new system is able to handle all the different bagels we have, all the different cream cheeses and all the combinations.” The more complex accounting system, along with a new point-of-sale system for the bistro, allows her to manage the inventory and income in one space.

In addition to having a good business plan and accounting system, Doralee recommends hiring a PR person to promote your product. She admits they didn’t really need a PR person at first because their product was so popular, “it advertised itself.”

Still wondering why the bagels are so good? It’s the water. “We use a water filtration system that emulates New York water, so we always have the same, consistent water in our bagels and in our coffee which makes a huge difference.”

If Doralee had to choose a favorite meal from the bistro menu, it would be the Nantucket Salad. She got the idea for the dish by watching an episode of one of her favorite TV shows, “The Barefoot Contessa.” And, since Jack’s makes their own turkey, Doralee streamlined it into the “crunchy and tasty” meal it is today.

For Doralee, the key to their success is consistency of product. But she is quick to note that offering fresh and healthy cuisine, clean facilities and employee retention is what makes Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels prosperous.

“I still have some of my original bakers, which makes me feel good that they are here,” said Doralee, “we are like a family.”

Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels is located at 5050 Carpinteria Ave. Learn more at bagelnet.com.

Megan Waldrep is a columnist and freelance writer, currently living on a 34-foot sailboat. To learn more about Megan, visit meganwaldrep.com.

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