Not Your Average Bagels
Willy’s Bagels & Blends has been a Brentwood staple since 1996, providing delicious and convenient breakfast and lunch creations for Liberty High School students directly across the street, as well as the rest of the local community. When the opportunity presented itself to the Richardson family to purchase the Second Street business in 2005, it was a no-brainer. “My grandparents owned a variety store, called Richardson Variety, that was located right next to a high school when my dad was growing up,” said Scott Richardson. “Our family grew up serving school age customers, so Willy’s was a perfect fit.” Scott was in high school himself when his family took over the store. His mom and older brother, Ryan, ran the business, and Scott and his sister helped with shifts after school. Then his dad helped with the books, so it was truly a family affair. While the Richardson family didn’t necessarily have previous experience with bagels specifically, Scott’s mom worked in a bakery as a baker/waitress in her younger years, so every part of this new venture just made sense.
When Scott was in his junior year of high school, his parents approached him and asked, when he graduated, would he rather go to college or run his own store. Clearly, Scott chose the directly into the workforce approach, and his parents opened the Balfour location across from Heritage High School in 2007. Both Willy’s locations have continued to thrive over the years, due in part to their own self-developed, family bagel recipe that can’t be found anywhere else. “We developed our own recipes and make our bagels fresh every day,” said Scott. “Everything is made from scratch at our Balfour location and is then shipped out to our downtown location.” Since she was the baker, Scott’s mom was the one to master the recipes. Unfortunately, the Richardsons lost their matriarch 10 years ago, so the original baker is no longer with them. “Thankfully we have amazing people who stepped in and have done a fantastic job. We have really good people who have helped us to grow and become what we are today. We are carrying on our parents’ legacy alongside people who have become our extended family.”
For anyone who somehow has not visited a Willy’s Bagels & Blends location yet, they offer a variety of gourmet bagels, bagel sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, hand-crafted smoothies, teas, lemonade, and fantastic, locally roasted coffee. “We use a roaster out of Sacramento which is actually another family that’s been in business for 50 years,” said Scott. “We call it working ‘family to family.’ We try to partner with as many similar minded, family-owned businesses as possible to spread the love locally.” Their gourmet bagels are something Willy’s prides itself on. “Our gourmet bagels can’t be found anywhere else. They’re kind of our signature.” The marinera has been on their menu for over 25 years, along with other favorites like pesto, spinach artichoke, cheesy garlic, and bacon cheddar. The goal is to create a bagel that is built for a sandwich. Customers are encouraged to build their own sandwich exactly how they like it, with options to add sprouts, avocado, bacon, and pretty much anything else you could want. Of course, Willy’s also has the traditional cream cheese for those who want something simple, but they also have a variety of flavors of the original topping.
Not every bagel is created equally. The Richardson family has curated a process of bagel making that truly stands out against other options. “You can’t find a lot of places that make/bake their bagels fresh each day,” said Scott. “It’s kind of a dying art, and we take pride in that. Our bagels are proofed so that they’re softer and bigger. We don’t boil our products like New York bagels, which is what makes them smaller and hard on the outside. Ours are made to be a sandwich.” These delicious methods have created life-long fans that, even after moving out of state, still request for Scott to ship Willy’s Bagels products across the country just so they can get that fix. “When everybody moved in the last couple of years, our bagels began being shipped across the country. With the pandemic, we had to get smart to stay afloat with the schools shut down. So, we turned our event center into a shipping center. We also relied heavily on our catering.”
One thing that the entire Richardson family has always been big on is giving back. In September they teamed up with Julia Booker of Bookers Book Nook for Bears and Books, a fundraiser to help local kids battling cancer to receive a Cuddle Bear book and stuffed animal during their hospital stay. “We helped earn 80-90 bears and books just at our Balfour location,” said Scott. “Ever since my mom fought her own battle with cancer, as well as our sister and sister-in-law, it’s been a big cause that we are always trying to help support. My family and I also live in the Tunnels of Joy, so we see every year that there’s a new person who needs the community’s help.” During Thanksgiving the Willy’s family works alongside Kaleidoscope out of Byron Methodist Church to provide turkeys for local families battling cancer. Then in the end of November begins the largest even of the year for Willy’s. “Right around Thanksgiving we put trees up in both of our locations and partner with Dela First 5 and Village Community Research Center to find local families that are in need during the holiday season,” said Scott. “We’ve worked with them for over 15 years on the toy drive, and we’re expecting the need to be much greater this year. Why not give to local families who truly need the help?” The trees will have tags on them with information of local children that customers can grab on their own time. Then they can fulfill that need or wish and bring the item(s) back to the store, wrapped and with the tag on top. The organizations hand-deliver the gifts to the families so they have something to open on Christmas day. “We encourage people to take their children out and make it a tradition, teaching them that it’s all about giving and not just receiving. Every year our community shows up. It’s truly amazing.”
Another way that Scott and his team have been able to support the local community is through the open-air markets that began being held in their Balfour parking lot during COVID. Ashli Tafolla of Your Life Essentially started a small business market to help local artisan makers get their products out to the public when going indoors wasn’t an option. “She has done a marvelous job,” said Scott. “She has created an atmosphere where local businesses know that someone cares and people will come to support them.” The markets are held monthly, and are typically in support of a different cause each time.
The Richardson family is proud to have Brentwood roots that were put down a long time ago. “When we took over the first store, it just made sense to stay in Brentwood. We wanted our families to grow up here like we did, and most of my family still lives here. Brentwood has always been the town where you feel at home. When my mom got sick, we had an overwhelming outpour of care. Our town still has that charm even though we continue to climb in numbers.” Scott and the rest of his family, both immediate and “extended,” have a desire to continue building up the legacy that his parents started. “Even if you don’t see my face or my family’s faces behind the counter, we want you to know that we’re thankful for your support. The more you support our stores, the more outreach we can do. And because of you, we are able to open our upcoming Oakley location which will be our new baking facility since we’ve outgrown our current space. It’s a drive thru/walk up concept, something a little new. So, stay tuned!”
Address: 1155 2nd Street, Brentwood, CA 94513
Phone: (925) 634 2245
Address: 390 W. Country Club Drive, Suite A, Brentwood, CA 94513
Phone: (925) 308 7534
Photos by: Provided