‘The bagel is the only thing that can unite us’: Brooklynites eat and win big at first-ever BagelFest Winter Games

man eyeing stack of bagels at bagelfest winter games 2023
Harry Harkins eyes down a stack of bagels ahead of the bagel eating competition at the Bagel Fest Winter Games on Jan. 15.
Paul Frangipane

The next Winter Olympic Games won’t roll around until 2026, when snowboarders, skiers, and curlers will descend on Italy’s snow-capped mountains. But on Sunday, New Yorkers got a taste of that competitive spirit when the BagelFest Winter Games rolled – quite literally – into Downtown Brooklyn.

“Bagels are an amazing food because they bring all of us together,” said BagelFest founder Sam Silverman, wielding a bagel torch at the Opening Ceremony. “In a world in which it’s kind of difficult to see eye to eye with your neighbors, with the people that you live with in the city, the bagel is the one thing that can unite us. It’s circular and it brings us all together.”

man rolling bagel dough at bagelfest
Bennet Adamson participated in the bagel dough-rolling competition at BagelFest on Jan. 15. Paul Frangipane
people in bagel-eating contest
The main event of the day was the bagel-eating competition, where Brooklynites snarfed down as many doughy baked goods as they could.Paul Frangipane

Gathered at CityPoint, some of the city’s most dedicated bagel-lovers engaged in a bagel relay — teams of two people took part in bagel-stacking, bagel-rolling, a bagel toss, and even bagel curling. 

Bagel-stacking proved to be the most popular event, as duos stacked the doughy rolls as high as they could within 15 minutes, then stood, watching the delicately-balanced towers sway, hoping to keep them upright for 60 seconds. 

Stacking might have been the most popular, but the main event, the bagel-eating contest, had the biggest prize. Harry Harkins, an Astorian, ate five entire bagels in eight minutes and won the competition and $500 in cash, plus a deluxe gift package worth $200 from Bagel Boss. 

people throwing bagels at bagelfest
Patrick Labuz tried his hand at bagel curling, one of the Winter Olympics-inspired events at BagelFest. Paul Frangipane
people stacking bagels at bagelfest
Teams of two carefully stacked bagels as part of a relay competition at the BagelFest Winter Games on Jan. 15

BagelFest certainly isn’t new to Brooklyn, but this year’s competition was. Usually, the event is a celebration of New York’s favorite baked breakfast food — an expo of sorts featuring dozens of bagel-makers and connoisseurs, where Brooklynites can sample different bagels and spreads and even vote on their favorite.

Silverman, a lifelong bagel-lover whose passion reached new heights when he moved to New York City, said he was inspired to create another themed eating event to complement BagelFest. 

man eating bagels in bagel-eating competition at bagelfest
Harry Harkins devoured bagels during the bagel eating competition at the Bagel Fest Winter Games — and won a $500 cash prize. Paul Frangipane
man measuring stack of bagels
A BagelFest official measures the height of a bagel stack during the Winter Games. Paul Frangipane

“Growing up, my family called me a bageltarian,” he said. “And I grew up in Massachusetts eating Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera [Bread], so when I moved down here and had a New York bagel for the first time, it absolutely blew my mind and that’s kind of what sparked my passion to bring all this together.”

The exact dates for BagelFest 2023 have not been set, but vendor applications for bakers and makers who want to partake are now open. Pop Up Bagels has won “Best Bagel” two years in a row, and last year won one free month at DeKalb Market Hall and a $20,000 marketing grant. 

man throwing a bagel in the air
Bagels flew through the air — and rolled along the ground — during the bagel-tossing event. Paul Frangipane
man winning bagel-eating competition
Harkins celebrated his bagel-eating win at the BagelFest Winter Games. BagelFest brings people together, said founder Sam Silverman, whether they’re competing against each other or sampling bagels at a more leisurely pace.Paul Frangipane

“The bagel shop owners, the bakers, the rollers, these people are New York and I love celebrating them,” Silverman said.