As a night of karaoke and dollar drink specials comes to an end, fuddled customers flock towards Winston’s Bagel cart on a torrid Tuesday night.
Winston Mezo, originally of Herrin, may be the most popular insomniac in Carbondale. His persistence on East Grand Avenue through June and July’s sweltering summer nights are admirable and his bagels are deliciously creative. For some, a trip to southern Illinois just isn’t complete without a late night bite at Winston’s.
“Winston’s bagels are to Carbondale what the Arch is to St. Louis,” said Derek DeFranco, a first year law student from St. Louis. “It’s a staple. You just can’t come to town for the first time and not have one.”
DeFranco, like many of Winston’s customers, filter in from the bars across the street. With sweat collecting on his brow and a half eaten bagel in hand, DeFranco said he’s stood in line for a bagel in all types of weather.
“I’ve been out here and nearly froze to death and I’ve been out here and nearly had a heat stroke,” he said. “It’s just a good way to end a good night.”
His twin brother, Dustin DeFranco, said he’s in Carbondale during the summer visiting his brother. He said a visit to Carbondale just isn’t the same without Winston’s. As cars screeched out of the parking lot across the street and onto East Grand Avenue, he said the late night entertainment created by the bars are half the fun of getting a bagel.
“I like to sit down with my food and just take in the surroundings,” he said. “When it’s this late at night theres no telling what’s going to happen out here.”
Mezo said there aren’t many things that surprise him these days. He proudly exclaimed that this isn’t his first rodeo and since moving to his current location in the mid-1990’s from Illinois Avenue, he said the heat and overenthusiastic patrons haven’t gotten to him yet.
“I haven’t had too many problems out here and I don’t plan on it,” he said. “As long as i’m making bagels everybody seems to stay pretty happy.”
In business since 1983, Mezo has gone from multiple carts around Carbondale to the single cart seen on most nights across the street from Pinch Penny Liquors. Despite this summer’s record breaking heat, Mezo said business during the summer usually peps up around midnight.
“Sunset Concert crowds usually make Thursday my busiest night during the summer,” he said. “Not this summer though. Out here on Tuesday nights its hard to tell that school isn’t going on.”
Nearly 30 years sober, Mezo said he started making bagels with his friend as something to do after he stopped drinking. Originally known as The Bagel Grill, Mezo said he bought out his friends share in 83’, incorporated Winston’s Bagels, hired an accountant, and the rest is history.