Diocesan News

A Hole New Opportunity for Ex-Homeless Veterans in Coney Island

Cyclone Bagels will be located on the ground floor of Surf Vets Place, an apartment building for veterans and low-income residents in Coney Island. (Photo: Courtesy of Beth George)

CONEY ISLAND — Veterans in Coney Island are getting ready to enlist, not in the military, but in a bagel shop set to open in early 2024. 

Local veterans are looking forward to working at Cyclone Bagels, a new shop to be located on the corner of Surf Avenue and West 21st Street, one block from the Coney Island Boardwalk. The shop will be staffed by formerly homeless military veterans, including many living in Surf Vets, an apartment building at the same site. 

Surf Vets, a nine-story, 135-unit building at 3003 West 21st St. which opened five years ago, provides housing for veterans and low-income families. On-site support services, like counseling, are available 24/7 for those who need it. 

The veterans who live there won’t have to travel far to go to work, since Cyclone Bagels is on the ground floor of Surf Vets. 

The veterans will be making the bagels, preparing sandwiches and waiting on customers in Cyclone Bagels, so named because the shop is only a few blocks from the world famous Coney Island roller coaster.

Concern Housing, a non-profit organization that sponsors Surf Vets and 200 other apartment buildings for veterans, is partnering with BYOB Bagels, a consulting and product development firm that trains people to make artisan bagels, to get Cyclone Bagels off the ground. 

Concern Housing and BYOB Bagels held a construction kickoff ceremony on Thursday, Oct.12 to mark the start of the store’s construction. The shop is slated to open in February. 

The idea behind Cyclone Bagels is to give veterans who have fallen on hard times a fresh start in life, said Ralph Fasano, executive director of Concern Housing. 

“Once you house people who have been homeless, particularly veterans, they want to do something. They like being productive. So we thought that it would be a good thing to develop something that would enable veterans to get jobs and learn a trade,” he said. 

The shop will provide employment for veterans like Eugene Cronin, a U.S. Army veteran who served for four years (1988-1992) and fought in Operation Desert Storm.

Military veteran Eugene Cronin (left) who will be working at Cyclone Bagels, toured the construction site with Clifford Culley, service coordinator for Surf Vets. Both men said they can’t wait for the bagel shop to open. (Photo: Paula Katina)

Cronin studied culinary training at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island under the G.I. Bill, and worked in top-notch restaurants and hotels — including the Mirage in Las Vegas — until he fell on hard times and descended into alcoholism and homelessness. 

He was living in Corpus Christi, Texas when a hurricane blew in and destroyed virtually all of his belongings, leaving him with nothing. “I had all these dominoes and they all just fell at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he recalled. 

It was the start of a downward spiral. He said he was arrested numerous times for DUI over the next several years and found himself living in men’s shelters. But he has now been sober for 13 years and is feeling optimistic about the future. 

Cronin can’t wait to start using his culinary skills in Cyclone Bagels. “Making bagels isn’t hard. But you have to do it right.There’s a lot of love that has to go into it. You can’t just be a cookie cutter robot,” said Cronin, who moved into Surf Vets two months ago. 

On Friday, Nov. 3, he toured the site of the bagel shop with Junie Clauther, project manager of Surf Vets, and Clifford Culley, service coordinator. The site is still under construction but is slowly taking shape. 

Customers who walk into Cyclone Bagels when it opens can expect to see bagels like these to buy. (Photos: Courtesy of Beth George)

Cyclone Bagels came about when a friend of Fasano’s put him in touch with Beth George, owner of BYOB Bagels. BYOB stands for Be Your Own Boss, and part of George’s mission is to encourage would-be entrepreneurs. BYOB Bagels has helped to launch bagel shops in 22 states and countries. George made sure to bring bagels to the construction kickoff last month. 

Finding the space for Cyclone Bagels was easy since Concern Housing’s contract to develop Surf Vets called for the organization to also develop commercial space on the first floor. 

George, who teaches bagel stores how to make artisan bagels, will train the veterans in how to make the bagels and run the shop. Once Cyclone Bagels is up and running, she will step aside, but will be there to help if her advice is needed. “I’ll be a phone call away,” she explained. 

George is eager to work on a project that will benefit military veterans. “Veterans sacrifice a lot to be veterans. And often if they’ve been in combat, especially, they come back with special needs,” she said. 

Cyclone Bagels will provide much-needed jobs.

According to the New York City Department of Veterans Services, there are approximately 200,000 veterans living in the city — 25% of them in Brooklyn — and about 10% are homeless. 

While he is grateful for the help, Cronin said he is looking forward to working in the bagel shop for another reason — a reason that perhaps speaks to the altruistic nature of veterans. “You get to serve people,” he explained.