Cock & Bull's rainbow bagels. 

What's a local bar to do during a pandemic in which social gatherings are discouraged and bar settings are shutting down? Sell bagels, of course.

The Cock & Bull Farmhouse Pub, a Sarasota establishment for almost 25 years, recently transitioned from selling its huge list of craft beer to authentic New York-style bagels. The shift comes at a time when service at the pub and in the beer garden are limited.

"When we first closed down on March 16, we knew we had to reopen slowly and carefully, to keep everyone safe," says co-owner Dawn Hochberg. Hochberg and her husband, Howie, continue to operate Cock & Bull at 25 percent capacity with no seating at the bar, strict mask-wearing rules and limitations on its beer garden and patio. "We are lucky to have been around long enough to continue to survive and reinvent ourselves," says Hochberg.

Cock & Bull has only seen about 40-60 percent of the number of customers it counted on before Covid, with about 20 customers arriving on a given Saturday or Sunday for bagels.

"Before the virus, we never had days where we didn't see more than one customer," says Hochberg. At the height of the pandemic, they had four different days during which only a single customer came in. "It was sad to see," she recalls.

From the days of serving customers on Main Street in 1997, to its Cattlemen Road relocation in 2001, the joint has always offered a food menu, with pizza, pretzels and other bar-style food. The bagel idea came naturally, as both Hochbergs have family from New York and New England, and have always been interested in selling deli food. They began boiling bagels on their own, but decided to appoint an expert.

Cock & Bull's vegan bagel with carrots, capers and vegan shmear. 

"We eventually found someone to work with in New York, right outside of Queens," says Hochberg. "They water-boil the bagels and flash-freeze them, but we finish baking them once they arrive in Florida."

The bar receives weekly deliveries of several different kinds of bagels, the most popular among customers being the "everything" and "rainbow" varieties, sold with a "spread the love" message. Each bagel is baked to order, and can be topped with a house-made shmear, with flavors like cinnamon sugar, maple pecan, spring onion and veggie. Bagels are also served with lox and capers.

"People light up when they arrive and pick up fresh bagels in warm brown bags," says Hochberg. "Some customers order them by the dozen."

Another reason for the Cock & Bull transition has been the growing popularity of craft beer. Cock & Bull was ahead of its time in selling lesser-known beers in Sarasota, but now, craft beer can be found just about anywhere, even in gas stations and grocery stores.

"There's way more supply than there is demand at this point," says Hochberg.

Until the normal routine of pub life can resume, the bagel shop endeavor has proven popular among Cock & Bull regulars. Daily batches always sell out, and orders are received every day. All Hochberg asks is that customers be safe, smart and continue to support local small businesses, even if the bar changes things up again.

"Besides," Hochberg says, "who doesn't love a good New York bagel?"

Cock & Bull is located at 975 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota. To order, call (941) 363-1262.

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