Dan Messinger says owning a bakery is harder than working in television, but is happy he made the switch. Dan Messinger says owning a bakery is harder than working in television, but is happy he made the switch. Dan Messinger says owning a bakery is harder than working in television, but is happy he made the switch. (Photo: Gerri Miller)

Burnt-out TV producer opens bakery in Los Angeles

Dan Messinger goes from making reality television to making bread.

Philadelphia native Dan Messinger arrived in Los Angeles in 1999 with dreams of being a standup comedian, but he wound up behind the counter of a busy neighborhood bakery, making Israeli specialties like pitas, sambusak and Jerusalem bagels.

Messinger had some success in comedy, but didn’t like the lifestyle that went with it. “I hated the hustle,” he said. So he segued into TV production, working on reality shows like "Faking It USA" and "Junkyard Wars," and a five-year stint at a brand strategy and marketing company. “The stuff I was doing was stimulating, but I tired of it and wanted to try something different, and I’d always been interested in food. I learned to cook at a young age.”

Searching the web for businesses for sale, he found one that he immediately recognized as one he frequented in his own Pico/Robertson neighborhood, Bibi’s Bakery and Café. Open since 2002, the Israeli-style eatery “had lost some of its luster and had potential to do more,” Messinger decided, and he bought it in December 2011.

The fresh pitas serve as the backdrop for many of the dishes at the restaurant.The fresh pitas serve as the backdrop for many of the dishes at the restaurant. (Photo: Courtesy Bibi's Bakery and Cafe)

He spiffed up the place, added more items to the menu, and amped up the marketing while preserving the Israeli theme, decorating the walls with framed Israeli tourism posters. The radio plays Israeli music. “People come in all the time and say, ‘This reminds me of Israel so much.’ Whether it’s the smells or items they can buy like Israeli iced coffee that they can’t seem to find elsewhere, it’s a place where you can feel a connection to Israel.”

Messinger, who spent a semester in high school and his junior year of college studying in Israel, was familiar with the country’s delicacies, and Bibi’s menu includes many of them. There’s sambusak, a calzone-like stuffed dough pocket, sesame pita sandwiches, bourekas (stuffed pastry), Israeli and Greek salads, and Jerusalem bagels, which are lighter and crispier than the American-style bagels he also sells. “It’s sesame crusted and has a light, airy dough inside. It’s not as dense or chewy as an American bagel.”

Other popular items include Bibi’s Pretzel, a Romanian bagel “that’s darker and has sesame or salt,” and an Israeli breakfast special, an omelet with salad and a choice of bread. “People like our food because everything is fresh, made daily or many times throughout the day,” Messinger noted.

In addition to bread, the shop also makes fresh pizzas.In addition to bread, the shop also makes fresh pizzas. (Photo: Courtesy Bibi's Bakery and Cafe)

He regularly works 18-hour days, and finds it ironic that he left the TV business partly because long hours and frequent travel kept him away from home. Now, at least, his wife, a teacher, and kids can drop by Bibi’s. “A food business is a business that you’re married to. It’s a lot of work for small returns, but there’s something very fulfilling about it. Working in entertainment, I was creating ideas, and you don’t always see something tangible. This is an incredibly tangible business. We’re turning raw materials into product and selling that product. There’s instant gratification.”

Putting his marketing background to work, Messinger is thinking about ways to grow his business. He wants to increase the event catering he does beyond office parties and brunches, and expand wholesale efforts, “but there’s a limit to what I can produce here in our space.” He’s considering opening a second location, but he’d need someone else to run it. “It would be more likely that I’d try to find a place to do more wholesale production first.”

Comparing his previous career to his current one, “The difference is, when you’re producing a TV show or content for the web you have a finished product and move on. This never ends. It’s a train that never stops,” Messinger said of the food business. “But I’m definitely happy I made the switch.”

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