It’s been 13 months in the making and the wait is finally over! At 7 a.m. on Saturday, October 9, the award-winning Whidbey Island Bagel Factory opened its doors at its new location in the Skagit Valley. The owner, John Auburn, greeted and took the order of his first customer, Jeff DeLong. Throughout the morning, a crowd builds on the corner of S 10th Street and E Division Street, a location previously occupied by the Mexican restaurant, COA.
“This is fantastic!” says DeLong, a blueberry and raspberry USDA researcher. “I’ve been driving by the place for a week. This is the place, this is the joint!” DeLong orders pesto and egg avocado on an everything bagel, as well as a sausage, egg and cheese on a sesame bagel. The food is on the house. DeLong delights staff member Becky Tjeerdsma with the day’s first tip.
Wearing flip flops and leggings, local realtor Michelle Russell hurries to the bagel shop with her daughter Emerson, who is still in her pajamas. “I just woke up,” Russell says, “and turned on Facebook and said, ‘Oh My God!” She says she then told her daughter to put her shoes on and they rushed over for a breakfast treat.
The mood is giddy and happy. A boyfriend is waiting in line to buy his pregnant girlfriend a breakfast bagel sandwich to satisfy her cravings. A family stops by to get their bagels for a road trip to Port Townsend via Seattle, and a driver briefly raises both of his hands in the air in celebration as he cruises by the opening day crowd.
A Bagel’s Journey to Mount Vernon
Auburn, a Bothell native, started baking when he was 12, with his sister’s Easy Bake Oven. Before he was making mouthwatering bagels on Whidbey Island, Auburn was wowing the public with amazing one-of-a-kind cakes for high-profile events, such as the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the presidential debate between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. In 2008, he was invited to compete on the Food Network, and walked away with the top prize of $10,000 for creating an Emerald City-themed cake representing Seattle’s skyline. Two years later, Auburn won another first place prize of $10,000 on TLC’s “Ultimate Cake Off.” For that, he created a 500-pound cake featuring “The Nutcracker’s” Clara with pegasus, the flying horse.
Seeking a change after 26 years in the dessert business, Auburn bought an existing bagel shop in Clinton in 2015, and began making his New York-style bagels in the Pacific Northwest. The first thing he learned was not to run out of bagels! With his baking skills, Auburn improved upon the dough recipe by adding flavor to it. “If you are doing something garlic, it better taste like garlic. Our garlic bagel has powdered garlic, dried garlic and then, on the outside, it has toasted garlic and parmesan cheese.”
The Banh Mi, inspired by the popular Vietnamese sandwich, is made with wasabi, jalapeño juice, cilantro, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, fresh carrots, and fresh ginger in the bagel, then sprinkled on the outside with sea salt.
The journey to opening his third location in Mount Vernon (Clinton and Oak Harbor are the other two) has been a long and arduous one. Thirteen months ago, Auburn began his lease on the bagel shop in a 1921 building, and subsequently gutted the place from floor to ceiling, in order to bring it up to code. With the help of Alice O’Donnell, a friend—and now a manager of the store—the pair used repurposed corrugated metal from an old barn throughout the building. They replaced doors, built walls, wallpapered with flour sacks, laid slate floors, cut butcher block counters and painted the ceiling. The resulting effect is an inviting factory industrial vibe, complemented by steam-punk-style interlocking gears that can be found on the exterior of the building, and printed on staff uniforms and masks. When it’s safe to do so, customers will be able to sit inside and see how bagels are made.
While getting the store ready to open, Auburn feels the heartwarming support from the community. “We have people honking their horns, yelling out their windows, ‘We love bagels!’ They stop, they look, they message me on Facebook, they can’t wait for us to open!”
Whidbey Island Factory bagels are soft on the inside and chewy on the outside. “When you boil the bagel it creates this shell and that’s where you get that chew,” Auburn explains. “When they run through the oven, it bakes the inside of the bagel.”
None of the sandwiches cost more than $10. “I want people to come back often,” Auburn says. “Everything we do is from scratch. We make sausage, we make everything—all of our meals. It’s just got to be a high-quality product, so people enjoy it.”
Currently, the store offers 26 bagel flavors, including pumpernickel, artichoke jalapeño, chocolate chip and seasonal flavors like the pumpkin spice with raw sugar and ginger glaze. Judging by the number of customers waiting in line, The Whidbey Island Bagel Factory in Mount Vernon is already the toast of the town. Toasted, with a schmear, that is!
Whidbey Island Bagel Factory
102 S 10th Street, Mount Vernon
Wednesday – Sunday: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday