April 23, 2019

Bibi’s Bakery is his newest production

Since moving to Southern California in 1999 to become a writer and performer, Dan Messinger has acquired some L.A.-specific wisdom. “Being a producer, I would argue, prepares you for almost anything,” he said. 

The affable, bearded and bespectacled owner of the kosher Bibi’s Bakery & Cafe in Pico-Robertson juggled various demands and distractions even as he talked about his circuitous professional path. The Philadelphia native and graduate of the University of Michigan started out in L.A. doing stand-up comedy and writing; then working as a youth director at Sinai Temple, followed by a stint in reality and unscripted TV, and working at a marketing production company. Since 2011, he has owned and run Bibi’s, a neighborhood bakery and cafe. 

In all his various turns, the interruptions never stop. And the cafe is no exception. During an interview recently, a refrigerator needed repair, catering orders came in, and repeat customers waved hello. 

To Messinger, 39, who wears a tongue-in-cheek apron embroidered with “Dan The Man,” owning a food business is like being on “a train that’s constantly moving.” 

But back to the analogy of media production, which, after many years, led Messinger to decide he wanted a change and a needed a “serious pivot.” Similar in certain ways to food preparation and sales, his previous jobs involved taking raw materials, and, while managing many variables and logistics, quickly creating from them a finished, deliverable product. 

“I was always drawn to food and cooking,” he said. So when he found himself burned out by the world of entertainment, he chose yet another high-pressure field to get into, albeit one with more autonomy and creativity: small business ownership in the food service field. 

He combed business exchange websites, and found that Bibi’s, a spot that had been in business on Pico’s Kosher Corridor since 2002, was for sale. As he had done with his previous positions, Messinger figured he’d learn on the job, this time while making incremental menu changes and cosmetic improvements.

Messinger took over Bibi’s right around Chanukah. “I barely remember that first week,” he said. His wife, however, tells the story of how he fell asleep at their table in the middle of Shabbat dinner. 

Some of Bibi’s staff under the previous owner stayed on, and Messinger “adjusted recipes where I felt they needed adjustment,” improving ingredient quality, as well as making interior upgrades. An important remaining feature was Bibi’s tabun, the stone-domed oven that’s ideal for baking Jerusalem bagels, sesame pita and bourekas with various fillings that Bibi’s has always been known for. (Messinger jokes that access to baked goods has turned his young sons into “carb-aholics.”) 

Other popular items include pareve donuts, stone oven-baked pizzas, an Israeli breakfast special combo that includes an omelet, Israeli salad and a bread item, and the sabich sandwich with hummus, fried eggplant, olives, amba mango sauce, hard-boiled egg, tomato and cucumber on pita. 

Bibi’s is kehilla kosher, and Chalav Yisrael and Pat Yisrael certified. 

The décor includes reproductions of vintage Israeli tourism posters and food advertisements, and Messinger streams Israeli radio to add to the vibe. The blended Israeli iced coffee drinks offer a particular taste of home to some customers. 

Being located on Pico near Robertson, next door to Jeff’s Gourmet, means interacting with “people from all stripes of Judaism,” from “bagel-and-lox Jews” to Chasidim originally from Borough Park. 

“This is a place where anyone can get something to eat,” he said.

On any given day, he hears spoken Farsi, Hebrew, Yiddish, French, Russian, English and Spanish. He uses his own Hebrew speaking skills daily — he spent a semester in high school in Israel, as well as his junior year of college at Hebrew University.

Customers also can enjoy late-night sambusak, cookies and other items. When Messinger opens after Shabbat, Bibi’s serves until 3 a.m. On weeknights, the doors don’t close until midnight, and 11 p.m. Sundays. 

Bibi’s Bakery and Cafe, 8928 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 246-1788.

RECIPE: BIBI’S HOMESTYLE SAMBUSAK

Ingredients

  • 1 pound prepared pizza dough (available at Bibi’s or your local supermarket)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 8 ounces marinara sauce
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • Sliced green olives to taste
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • Sesame seeds

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut out circles 7 inches in diameter. Each circle will make one sambusak.
  3. With a pastry brush, brush the outer edge of the dough circle with the beaten egg.
  4. For each sambusak, spoon one-fourth of the marinara sauce onto half of the circle. 
  5. Add a mixture of the mozzarella and feta cheeses (about 3 ounces of combined cheese per sambusak).
  6. Add olives and a sliced hard-boiled egg on top of the cheese.
  7. Fold one side of the dough over the other; pinch or press edges to seal. 
  8. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.

 

Makes 4 sambusak.