A ride at the new Luna Park in Coney Island features Coney Island scenes from days of old, including Charles Feltman’s Surf Avenue restaurant. Feltman, the purported inventor of the hot dog (it was originally a sausage served on a roll; the roll’s distinctive shape and the hot dog’s mild recipe evolved later on) operated a food wagon in Coney Island beginning in 1867, and by 1874 the profits from his hot dogs enabled him to build his Ocean Pavilion. By 1946, when the restaurant finally closed, billions of frankfurters (also called since the sausage on roll treat had also arisen in Frankfurt, Germany as early as the 1500s) had been sold.
In 1916 a Feltman’s employee, Nathan Handwerker, struck out on his own, renting a shack at Surf and Stillwell Avenues and started selling hot dogs by the nickel. In the early years business was slow. Handwerker hit on the gimmick of dressing some local layabouts in white smocks, set them up behind the counter selling franks, and advertising his hot dogs approved by “doctors.” With the arrival of the BMT subway in 1920, his location proved advantageous and he was soon selling thousands, then millions, of hot dogs. Seafood items and other food were added to the menu and Nathan’s became the familiar institution it is today.
From Coney Island Food and Dining by Jeffrey Stanton