Today, here is one of those heartwarming American rags to ... bagels stories we all love to hear.

Chheng and Chia Lune lived in the "Killing Fields" of Cambodia, where in the 1970s the Khmer Rouge was engaged in widespread, brutal and arbitrary executions of those the communist regime considered "subversive."

Not wanting to live or raise a family in such a tenuous place, the Lunes fled their home for the relative calm of Vietnam, where they stayed until 1981. That's when they sold virtually everything they owned for a chance to live in the United States.

It wasn't such an easy transition for the couple, who by that time had four daughters, and shared a one-bedroom home in Anaheim with three other adults. But it was a fresh start.

Chheng began working as a mechanic and saved judiciously for a few years until the couple was able to open their own doughnut shop. It was very long hours and hard work, but it was something of their own once again.

Fast forward past the ownership of a couple of doughnut shops in different parts of the state to 1996, when Chia's brother Sam persuaded the couple to come to the Bay Area to open up a business that he felt had fantastic potential: bagels. It took a lot of convincing, but it turns out that Sam was very correct. Thus began the early days of what is now the Bagel Street Café.

The Lunes have owned the Dublin store for the past nine years. Chheng and Chia's 29 year-old son Quan has been a friendly face there for most of that time, but never really expected to make bagels and cream cheese his career.


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"I was going to San Jose State and always thought this (the store) would be my fallback. I spent some time in finance and did loans for a couple of years, but I just never got used to the corporate life, and noticed that when I worked weekends at the store I really enjoyed it," he said.

Bagel Street is not a franchise; each of the 19 current stores (#20 opens in Tracy in December) is owned by someone who is part of the large family tree that includes the Lunes.

"That's a lot of stores and that's a lot of family members, including aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins and second cousins," he said.

While each of the stores is a little different, they all use the same bagels, which are baked fresh at a plant in Fremont and then shipped to each of the stores on a daily basis.

Once at the Dublin store, where specialty bagels such as Asiago cheese arrive as unadorned plain, the cheese is baked on in Dublin. The Dublin store also bakes it's own pastries and breads and makes it's own cream cheese on a daily basis. That means someone gets the unenviable task of having to show up for work around 4 a.m. each day to warm up the ovens and get to the baking.

"It can be a grind," says Quan Lunes, who normally puts in 12-hour days and has been working seven days a week for the past few weeks while his parents have been visiting friends and relatives in what is now a much-changed Cambodia.

"On a good day, we'll (sell) about 1,000-1,100 bagels. On a slow day, it's between 700-800." Lately, a slow day has not been an issue. In fact, Lunes says since the Paragon Outlet Mall opened up in very nearby Livermore, business has boomed.

Remember all that crazy traffic on Interstate 580 when the mall first opened? Apparently, a lot of people who know the area or who have GPS units were trying a little detour through Dublin Ranch to go the back way to the Fallon Road exit. Many of those people, it seems, drove down Dublin Boulevard and into the parking lot of Bagel Street.

"That first week the mall was opened was crazy here. It was probably the busiest week we've ever had," he said.

They are also seeing a lot of increased traffic at lunchtime, when mall employees looking for a little variety from the food court drop into the store for a bite.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the number-one seller at Bagel Street by far is a plain bagel with plain cream cheese. That's not very exciting, but apparently when you consider the numbers, it's been fairly lucrative for a grateful and humble Lune family.

All in all, that's a remarkable journey from the Killing Fields to the American Dream.

Contact Alan Elias at elias2000@sbcglobal.net.