Bagel Store Fills Hole in the Market: Coney Island Business Set to Hire Formerly Homeless Veterans

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

When you walk into this storefront on Surf Avenue in Coney Island, it takes some imagination to picture a bustling bagel store.

That’s what army veteran Eugene Cronin sees among the beams and blueprints. He never thought he’d be here on the nights he spent sleeping on a slab of concrete in a jail cell during the depths of his alcoholism.

“It’s turned around a lot because I didn’t need a hand out, I needed a hand up.” 

Eugene is one of 82 formerly homeless veterans living in Concern Housing’s surf vets building. Cyclone Bagels is set to be their new retail space. 

Director Junie Clauther says the grand opening is a new beginning for the building and the vets.

“This is a job for them,” Clauther said. “It will give them a new phase in life, and it would also give them purpose and benefit them. They have a place to go.”

Now 13 years sober, Cronin is a certified executive chef. He used his G.I. bill to enroll at Johnson and Wales University.

“Cheffing has been so much fun,” Cronin said. “I like making food where you can’t replace the cook to make these particular dishes. There’s a lot of love that goes into it.”

But before that, there were 4 years of Desert Storm. 

“We saw a lot of combat,” Cronin said. “We’re marching across the desert, there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide in the desert. For the Bedouins to cross the desert safely if there’s a landmine, the girls would walk in front so they would get it. It definitely left an imprint.” 

Cronin’s service to his country left him with those memories and a military discipline he can’t shake. But that’s exactly what Beth George wants in the kitchen. Her business, Be Your Own Boss, or BYOB Bagels is partnering with concern housing to open Cyclone Bagels. 

“Veterans sacrifice a lot to be veterans,” George said. “And they often, if they’ve been in combat especially, come back with special needs, and just to see the impact on the individuals that moved me.”

Cronin knows how badly he and his fellow Surf Vets need this. 

“There are some that are just dying to get a job but they’re in their 50s and 60s and they are vital as an 18-year-old, you can’t count them out,” Cronin said. “We got a bunch of people upstairs just raring for this place to open. You got to serve people.”

“Cronin is such a positive person,” George said. “His attitude is such a light, working at Cyclone Bagels will not only benefit him, but he will help others. He loves helping other people.”

Concern Housing has given Cronin a new sense of stability and Cyclone Bagels has helped his faith come back around.

“I don’t have a shotgun to my chest, I don’t have a bottle of booze next to me,” Cronin said. “Wow, the future is amazing.”

Cronin doesn’t know what the future holds but for the first time in a while he can imagine it.