Bagels are a bargain for bar-goers

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

Newcomers to Carbondale during this year’s Unofficial Halloween may have seen a lively old man standing behind a small cart until the early hours of the morning, serving warm bagels to students and bar-goers. The owner — who can often be heard telling comical stories to his customers — and his food cart attract hundreds of people every weekend, as they follow the smell of warm grilled bagels to the corner of Pinch Penny Liquors. 

For the past 32 years, Winston Mezo, more commonly known as the Bagel Man, has satisfied late night cravings with an array of bagel concoctions.

Bagel toppings include cinnamon, garlic salt, apple slices, raisins, bacon bits, onions, cucumbers, cream cheese, butter and sunflower seeds.

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“I just added [ingredients] that I thought would be good,” Winston said. 

It is the combination of food and entertainment that keeps customers coming back week after week, year after year.  

“Somehow, he makes magic on the grill when all those flavors go together,” said Guy Tiberio, an SIUC alumnus who was visiting the area, as he ordered a bagel with everything on it. Tiberio frequented the bagel cart at least twice a week when he attended the university.

Winston grew up in Herrin and joined the Army after high school. After returning from the Army he attended SIUC to earn a degree in social work.

He found himself with a lot of time on his hands and said it was the worst place a recovering alcoholic could be.

Winston said one day he realized he wanted to live and prosper more than he wanted alcohol, so he started Wintson’s Bagels.

He had a friend who previously ran a bagel cart business in Carbondale. When his friend moved, Winston decided to continue with the idea and opened his bagel business in 1983. 

“It was a distraction, something to do other than drinking,” Winston said.

Now, Winston is 33 years sober.

However, Winston was not always as outgoing, and said when he was beginning his sobriety, it was difficult having a business so close to the bars. He often felt sick and withdrawn, and did not interact with his customers like he does now. 

“Alcoholics know loneliness like no other,” he said.

He said found camaraderie in his involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, and continues to give back to the organization. He is a mentor to several other recovering alcoholics, some of whom, over the years, have worked for him at his second cart. He said this gave them structured time and something to do.

Winston recently closed his second cart on the strip and now operates solely from the one next to Pinch Penny because it gets the most traffic.

“I love the stories, and I love that it’s local,” said Colleen Ryterski, a senior from Pinckneyville studying geography and environmental resources, who has been coming to Winton’s since 2013. “You can’t get this everywhere.”

Winston said he loves Monday mornings with a laugh, because he takes his hard-earned cash to the bank.

“But the kids are the best part of it. I’ve met some of the best kids I’ve ever met in my life right here at these bagel carts,” he said.

Even though he does not work as many hours as he used to, Winston can still be found Thursday through Saturday night from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. at his cart. He’ll likely be serving a chatty crowd as he tells one of his famous jokes about a fabled nephew, with his AA pendant hanging from a chain around his neck.

“At $2.25, the bagel’s a steal. It’s the best value for your hard earned student loan money. But, the stories and the entertainment you get is worth $2.25 more,” Tiberio said.

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or @ASpoerre_DE

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