Another American chain tracing their history back over 100 years. Starting life as a nickel hot dog stand in Coney Island in 1916, the chain bears the name of it’s co founder, Nathan Handwerker. Nathan started the business with his wife Ida. The hot dog recipe they used was her idea, with her grandmother creating the secret spice sauce.
Although they were Jewish, their produce lacked rabbinic supervision and the meat wasn’t kosher, they advertised it as ‘kosher style.’
Handwerker was an immigrant who arrived in New York and found work at Feltman’s restaurant in Coney Island.
Going Into Business For Himself
One legend has it that Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, the ‘singing waiters’ encouraged him to start his own restaurant. The official company history doesn’t mention this, but it’s a nice story. The couple spent their life savings of $300 to start the business.
When he launched he undercut his former employer who was charging 10c for a hot dog. Nathan’s came in at 5c!
At the time, food regulation wasn’t really a thing, and hot dogs were considered cheap fare. Handwerker had customers dressed in surgeons smocks eating at his place, presumably surgeons would only eat good food.
Nathan’s son Murray drove the expansion of the chain. A second branch in New York was added in 1959 and a third in 1965. By 1968 the company had gone public.
The family sold the chain to a group of private investors in 1987, at which point the chain was franchised and expanded rapidly. They acquired Kenny Rogers Roasters and Miami Subs Grill.
By 2001 Nathan’s Famous had 24 company owned units, 380 franchised units and 1400 stores in 17 foreign countries around the globe.
They signed a deal with major league baseball in 2017 to become the official hot dog sponsor.
The original store had remained open 365 days a year since its inception, until being forced to close due to hurricane Sandy, but six months later it was repaired and reopened.
One quirk is that the original store still served fried frogs legs which has been on the menu since the 1950’s
Hot Dog Contest
On the 4th July Nathan’s Famous hosts an annual hot dog eating contest. Starting in the 1970’s the contest sees contestants trying to eat as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes. The current record holder is Joey Chestnut with 76 hot dogs and Miki Sudo with 48 and 1/2 for the ladies.