THE BAGEL RACE IS ON

AN ETHNIC FOOD GOES NATIONAL, SETTING OFF A SHOP-BUILDING FRENZY

GIMME A BAGEL SHMEER," IS HOW generations of New Yorkers have ordered breakfast. It's Gotham for, "A gracious good morning to you. May I have a bagel with a bit of cream cheese, please?" Though the bagel arrived in America with Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s, until a few years ago, most of the country hadn't enjoyed this half-boiled, half-baked, half-crunchy, half-chewy half-roll.

Given the current bagel-building boom, few Americans will be able to avoid them. With remarkable velocity, the bagel is joining America's basic fast-food group--pizza, hamburgers, chicken and tacos--as competitors race one another across the country to create...

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