Forget Thanksgiving. The most gluttonous day of the year is Super Bowl Sunday, where bowl after bowl and paper plate after paper plate is filled with finger-food bacchanalia that would make even the mad genius responsible for the TGI Friday’s appetizer selection blush (and certainly the ancient Romans). And so, all week leading up to game day, we’ll be offering up our own menu of scientific investigations, origin stories and majestic feats of snacking that not even the biggest sporting event of the year can top. Read all of the stories here.
“You won’t believe this,” Stanley Garczynski, the co-creator of Bagel Bites, says with a pause, “but I hate pizza.”
Despite the fact that he — along with business partner Bob Mosher — introduced one of the most well-known pizza products in history, Garczynski never quite acquired a taste for them. “People ask me all the time, ‘How many Bagel Bites have you eaten?’ and I say, ‘Not very many,’” he tells me. At most, he’ll have a single slice of pizza when his wife or two sons order some, but that’s about it.
As for his own invention, he’s certainly tried them — especially in the mid-1980s when he and Mosher were first experimenting with their recipe — but he never went crazy for miniature pizza bagels the way that millions of children, college students and just about everyone else did. That might seem incongruous to the origin of Bagel Bites, but it’s also a testament to their brilliance — almost everyone loves pizza, and the simple genius of snacky pizzas on a mini-bagel was such an inspired idea that even a guy who wasn’t nuts about it could see the potential.
It all started sometime around 1982, when 30-year-old Garczynski moved to Fort Myers, Florida in search of a fresh start. Along with that, he needed a new tennis partner, which is how he met Mosher, a caterer at the time. The two became fast friends, and they and their respective girlfriends would get together often to party, drink and shoot the breeze about everything from their dreams for the future to humankind’s near-universal love for pizza. It was during these casual get-togethers a simple, yet innovative idea was born, one that would not only make Garczynski a millionaire, but change American snacking habits forever.
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In 1982, I had been a teacher for seven years in Londonderry, New Hampshire. I loved teaching and I loved the kids, but there was no money in it. I was getting restless living in New Hampshire, so I moved to Florida and began working in marketing and sales. Bob Mosher — who I didn’t know yet — moved to Fort Myers before me. He was from outside of Chicago, and he came to Fort Myers also looking for a change. Bob and his sister Cathy started Prime Time Catering, a very successful catering business. I knew Cathy through a local gym I went to, and shortly after moving to Florida, I mentioned that I’d like to find a tennis partner. She said her brother also played tennis and was looking for someone to play with, so that’s how Bob and I met.
At that time, Bob had a girlfriend named Laney, and I had a girlfriend named Carole, both who are now our wives. The four of us would get together, chit chat and do different things. One day, Bob was saying that he really didn’t like the catering business because of the hours — always nights and weekends and holidays — and that he wanted more time to spend with Laney. He also noticed that, when he was catering, it was difficult to find anything that the kids at these parties would eat. I forget who it was, but one of us said, “The only thing they really like is pizza.”
So we got to talking about coming up with some kind of hors d’oeuvre or appetizer that would be fun for kids — something we could put pizza toppings on, like toast, bread or English muffins. Around this time, bagels had become very popular. In the past, they’d mostly been big in Jewish areas of New York City, but Lender’s Bagels out of Hartford, Connecticut was making them more common everywhere. Most of their bagels were regular, big bagels, but they also sold mini bagels that we thought would be perfect for little pizzas. I can’t quite remember who said “Bagel Bites” first. It may have been Laney, or it may have been Carole — really, it was all of us together. Everyone loved that name.
Bob and I decided to go for it. We didn’t want to approach banks with our new idea, and we didn’t want to ask our families and friends for money because we didn’t know if we’d make it or not. We didn’t want to drain them, so we used our own funds. Thank god that we had Laney and Carole, who not only believed in us, but also supported us financially — without them, there would be no Bagel Bites. I think we each put in $10,000 and rented a 2,000-square-foot warehouse in Fort Myers (even now, Bagel Bites are still made in town).
One of the early challenges was that we had to figure out where to get our ingredients. We already decided on the Lender’s mini-bagels, and for the cheese, we got Sargento. For the sauce, we used Heinz, who would end up buying Bagel Bites some years later. The problem was we had to convince these people to ship us super, super small orders because we just didn’t have the space. They wanted to send us tractor trailers of this stuff, but we were eventually able to convince them to send just a half or quarter of a truck until we were able to store more at a larger facility. Bob and I were very fortunate to have great friends, who would stop by to help us unload and load these trucks by hand. Of course, we felt obligated to thank them with samples of our Bagel Bites, which was a good way to test them out.
We’d go in at 7 a.m., and we wouldn’t leave until 10 or 11 at night. There were days where I’d want to leave early, and Bob would say, “Where are you going?” The next night, I’d say the same to him. We pushed each other and worked really hard. We pulled those hours from Monday through Thursday, and on Friday, we ended a little bit earlier. On weekends, we partied. We were young, and the four of us always had a lot of fun together.
Bob and I were kind of opposites. He was low-key, and really thought things out behind the scenes. I was out there — I was the communicator. We were both very hands-on when it came to making the final products. It was just the two of us at first, and eventually we hired a few local ladies to help us out, but we were still there making the products with them. We’d have birthday parties. We’d have pig roasts. It was a good environment. It was a business, but we made everyone feel like they were part of the company and family.
It was a pretty simple operation. Bagels were dumped out of a box, put on racks and our special sauce would be pumped out of a cylinder onto the bagels. Then we’d sprinkle the cheese on them. Everything was done by hand on an assembly line. Once packaged, they were put into a freezer waiting to be shipped.
Eventually, when we had enough finished product, I’d go out locally with samples and try to get people interested in purchasing them. We’d travel to the large national food shows in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, you name it. I always tried to get a booth by the beer, Coke or Pepsi booth. That helped a lot, because people always want something to munch on in these shows. People would see our booth and say, “Bagel Bites? What is a Bagel Bite?” and then see these little pizzas. They’d pick them up, turn them over and see that dimple. “Oh, they’re bagels!” they’d say. “Wow! Pizza on a bagel!” We’d serve thousands of them.
In our first year,  we reached $500,000 in sales. A couple of years later, we were nearing $10 million a year. Our biggest orders were coming from warehouse clubs — Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Makro, Price Club and Costco. Before long, large food companies were interested in purchasing us, and in 1987, we sold to Labatt, out of Canada — which owns Labatt Beer — and we became part of their food division called Oregon Farms. A few years after that, in 1991, Labatt was bought by Ore-Ida Foods, which is owned by Heinz.
After we sold our company, Bob and I stuck around for a bit. Bob managed the Bagel Bite factory, which now had 350 employees. As for me, Heinz wanted to get more into the club business, so eventually, I was put in charge of North America Club sales, not just for Bagel Bites, but for all kinds of products.
We’d both signed five-year contracts [with Heinz], and by 1996, we were looking for a change. At that time, Bagel Bites had two buildings in Fort Myers. Bob was in the factory and I was in the building next door, and he’d come over for lunch pretty much every day. One day, we received a call from one of the presidents of Heinz who said we needed to expand our operations yet again because Bagel Bites sales were doing so well. After he hung up, Bob was looking out the window at this building that was being built and he said to me, “We could do this. We could build this building.” So we called the president back and told him, “We’ll build the building for you, if you want,” and he said, “Yeah, build it, and we’ll rent it from you.”
That was the start of our next business — Sox Development, Inc. and Sox Investments, Inc., where we built commercial and retail properties, which we still do together in the Fort Myers area. So far, we’ve built over 80 properties. We’ve been friends and business partners for just about 40 years, and yes, we still work very well together. I remember, my son Matthew asked me not long ago if we ever argue, and I told him, “We disagree, but there’s never big blowouts. We always find a middle ground.”
Even though Bob and I are kind of opposites, we’ve always listened to each other’s ideas. You know, you hear about these friendships that people have, and then they go into business together and they find success and make all this money, but then they don’t have that friendship anymore. Bob and I are really lucky. We continue to respect each other, and we’re still very very good friends after all these years.