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The Origin of Everything (The Bagel)

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 28, 2019

everything bagel.jpg

Dan Nosowitz digs into the genealogies of bagel-making to find and define the true (i.e., disputed) origin of the everything bagel.

Let’s be honest, it’s probably not possible to have “invented” the concept of putting several different existing bagel toppings on a bagel. In patent law there is something called the rule of “obviousness,” a tricky concept, but one that’s both necessary and necessarily subjective. It states that something cannot be patented if a person with ordinary skill in a subject would naturally use the same idea to solve a problem. A painter, for example, cannot patent a jar of water for cleaning brushes, because any painter, understanding that water is used to clean brushes and that a jar is a good vessel to hold water, would come to the same conclusion. Or, for example, if there are five popular bagel toppings, it is fairly obvious to make a bagel with all of those ingredients. That’s not invention.

But there is one element of the everything bagel that is invention, and that’s the name. “Everything” is the accepted name for a fairly specific combination of toppings: It is not a “combo bagel” or a “spice-lover’s bagel” or, as the Canadians might call it, an “all-dressed bagel.” It is an everything bagel, and someone had to come up with that piece of clear, descriptive branding.

By his own and most other accounts, that person was David Gussin. Around 1979 or 1980, he says, he was a teenager working at Charlie’s Bagels in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York. “It didn’t actually say ‘Charlie’s Bagels,’ it just said ‘Bagels,’ but it was Charlie’s,” says Gussin. He was doing typical teenage job stuff: cleaning, working the counter—and cleaning the oven, where excess bagel toppings accumulated when they fell off. “One day instead of throwing them out like I usually did, I gave them to Charlie and said, ‘Hey, make a bagel with these, we’ll call it the everything bagel.’ It wasn’t that big of a deal; we weren’t looking to make the next big bagel. Charlie was probably more interested in what horses he was going to bet on.”

What’s weird, as Nosowitz notices, is that the everything bagel doesn’t include everything. An everything bagel with sunflower seeds is a mistake. “Everything” is sesame, onion, garlic, poppy, and salt. And it’s called “everything.” This is what’s invented, what is non-obvious. It is merely true.