One constant in the Coney Island scene at Surf and Stillwell Avenues since 1916 has been Nathan’s Famous,
Charles Feltman was 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 enterprise. 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 foods were added to the menu and Nathan’s became the familiar institution it is today.
Nathan’s branches around town haven’t fared quite so well. The Bay Ridge outlet at 7th Avenue and 86th recently closed. Meanwhile, a long-shuttered Nathan’s sign can be spotted at the Queens Boulevard 63rd Drive subway exit on the south side of the boulevard, under an awning belonging to the abandoned Wiggles strip club.
Photo: Bob Mulero