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No matter how big Bruegger's Bagel Bakery gets, the 156-unit 1chain will continue to bake its bagels six at a time.

"We make our bagels the old-fashioned way, kettle-boiling and stone-hearth-baking them in small batches in each store so there's always a hot bagel," says Pat Cox, senior VP-marketing.

That and the marketing plan devised by Ms. Cox, 44, are aimed at raising the bagel above its station as a humble ball of dough.

Stressing its commitment to authenticity with its "totally, completely obsessed with freshness" advertising themeline, Bruegger's has outpaced competitors as it capitalizes on growing bagel consumption in the U.S.

Bruegger's, whose sales rose 30% last year to $81 million, plans to double its number of restaurants by yearend.

The quirky cartoon baker and bagels featured in Bruegger's in-store signage, direct mail and limited print advertising, designed by Parnell St. James Co., help cultivate Bruegger's image.

"We try to find a charming way to appeal to customers' appetites and sense of humor. It's a sophisticated humor," Ms. Cox says.

To further press the freshness image, Ms. Cox hired Richards Group, Dallas, to create print, radio and outdoor. Bruegger's $3 million media budget will probably triple next year, as greater expansion warrants TV advertising. While Bruegger's has long focused on pushing the bagel beyond breakfast, as the company expands Ms. Cox plans to reinforce that positioning.

"The further you get from the traditional bagel-eating areas, the more willing people are to think of bagels as more than a breakfast only product," she says.

"People want the convenience of McDonald's and the sophistication of Bruegger's," she says. "We're the healthy quick-service alternative."

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