Coney Island is basically the equivalent to an Americanized Birthright for hot dogs (despite what Detroit may think). Though a little less kosher than we’d hope for, Coney Island is a historical motherland to the birth of our beloved franks, home to not only Feltman’s (the man, the legend, who started the frank craze in the United States), but to Nathan’s Famous since 1916.
On May 28, Nathan’s is celebrating their 100th anniversary by going old school and selling their famous weiners for the original 5 cents each! From 11am-2pm (and limited two per customer), you’ll be able to enjoy a piece of Brooklyn history (and get a fancy commemorative certificate) joining swarms and crowds of people looking to grab some weiners. Seems innocent enough, right? Patriotic even?
Sure, Nathan’s Famous is THEE hot dog hot spot on Coney Island and quite frank(ly) the planet, but let us not forget how Nathan Handwerker originally got his start: working for Feltman’s, who is widely considered the inventor of the hot dog. But did you know that Feltman’s is in the midst of a comeback? Steeplechase Beer Garden (a mere two blocks from Nathan’s) will be hosting a Feltman’s pop up selling their historic weenies for 10 cents each from 2-4pm on the same damn day of Nathan’s Famous Centennial.
These two brands have a long history together. Back in the day, Charles Feltman was the OG Hot Dog King. He came up with the wacky notion of putting a hot dog in a bun in order to eliminate need for plates and utensils, in a world that already knew bread makes everything better. He sold these franks in a bun for 10 cents each, and slowly his weiner-pire rose. In 1915, Nathan was a mere hot dog bun slicer at Feltman’s, which gave him the opportunity not only to learn the weiner business, but also to rise up as Feltman’s eventual competition.
Here’s the dirty water tea: Nathan was able to save money by eating free Feltman red hots (god bless shift meals), and once he saved up $300, he took his wife’s grandmother’s old country recipe and opened up his own establishment, selling his hot dogs for half the price of Feltman’s.
In a time of skepticism toward what hot dogs were made from (I find myself asking the same question walking past some street meat carts in the city), Nathan had some tricks up his sleeve. He would hire actors to dress up as doctors and come to his stand, then propose the notion that if doctors were eating them, they had to be safe! There are also claims that Nathan would pay cops not to ticket customers who were parking illegally, and to step in if things ever got too rowdy.
Nathan’s quickly earned an A-list fan base. Al Capone was a frequent visitor, and FDR even served Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to Her majesty the Queen of England. Did all this make Nathan a Bad Boy, or a Bad Ass? That’s for you to decide.
How did Feltman feel about all this? Sadly, there aren’t as many traces leading back to the glory days of Feltman’s, with them having gone out of business for 63 years (until now).
An even greater twist on this already salty plot: Michael Quinn, owner of the Feltman’s brand, normally sells his Feltman’s hot dogs in Coney for $2 each. That’s half the price of Nathan’s current $4.15 price!
So, is this holiday doubling merely a crafty form of marketing, relying on the historic ties between the two establishments in order to sell some hot dogs? Or is the Feltman Empire striking back? Either way, it means you get some grub on the cheap. The hot dog wars are clearly back in Coney Island, and the only casualties will be your hunger for hot dogs.
[Note: The 5 cents dogs are only available at the main Nathan’s on Surf Avenue, not the boardwalk location.]
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