14 Hot and Juicy Facts About Nathan's Famous

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Even if you've never been to the sprawling stand on Coney Island, you likely still know about Nathan's Famous hot dogs—whether from the grocery store or the company's restaurants, or from watching people willingly stuff their faces full of them every year on national television. The company is a bona fide empire these days, but success didn't come easily. Here are a few facts about the company's rise from single stand to iconic brand.

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH FIVE-CENT HOT DOGS.

Image of the original Nathan's Famous location in Coney Island
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In 1912, Nathan Handwerker immigrated from Poland to the U.S. and took a job in the kitchen at Feltman's restaurant on Coney Island. Convinced he could serve up a better hot dog than the ones Feltman's made, Handwerker took out a $300 loan and set up a stand serving five-cent dogs—half the price of Feltman's.

2. NATHAN USED A RECIPE FROM THE OLD COUNTRY.

Image of hot dogs being cooked on a grill
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To make his hot dogs stand out from the competition, Nathan seasoned them using a secret blend of spices handed down from his wife Ida's grandmother. The result: great success. By 1920, when the subway was extended out to Coney Island, Nathan's Famous was selling 75,000 hot dogs each weekend.

3. NATHAN HAD AN INGENIOUS METHOD FOR PROMOTING FOOD SAFETY.

Image of a man in a white shirt holding four hot dogs
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To convince customers his hot dogs weren't a health hazard, Handwerker handed out flyers offering free samples to hospital workers, who showed up wearing their protective smocks. Because if doctors are eating there, it must be safe, right?

4. PARKING WAS INSANE, BUT NOBODY EVER GOT A TICKET.


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When Nathan's Famous was hopping, cars would often be double- and triple-parked along Surf Avenue. But nobody ever got a ticket because Nathan had local policemen on the dole. According to the documentary Famous Nathan (filmed by Nathan's grandson, Lloyd), Handwerker paid officers $2 a day to give people a break, and to only step in if things got rowdy.

5. EXPANSION TOOK 50 YEARS TO HAPPEN.

Image of a Nathan's Famous food cart on a street in New York City
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Nathan's original stand grew and grew, until it took up almost the entire block. But it wasn't until his son, Murray, took over the business in 1968 that Nathan's Famous began to extend the brand. A shrewd businessman, Murray established a chain of restaurants along with the packaged hot dog business. Today, there are more than 300 Nathan's Famous restaurants, and the hot dogs appear in supermarkets in all 50 states.

6. CRIMINALS AND CELEBRITIES ALIKE WERE BIG FANS.

Vintage photograph of Al Capone standing next to some other unknown nameless guy in a fedora. Or maybe a bowler hat.
Keystone/Staff, Getty Images

Frequent patrons to the Coney Island stand included Al Capone and Cary Grant (presumably not together), and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who managed to serve Nathan's hot dogs to the King and Queen of England in 1939 as well as Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Modern-day stars have continued the love. Barbra Streisand, for one, had them shipped to London for a dinner party.

7. IT USED TO OWN KENNY ROGERS ROASTERS.

Image of Kenny Rogers, a country singer and fast food chicken afficiando
Terry Wyatt/Stringer, Getty Images

Nathan's Famous bought the chicken joint in 1998 after it went bankrupt (Kenny's still sad about that). Ten years later, Nathan's sold it to a Malaysian franchiser, and now the chain is enjoying a profitable second life in Asia.

8. WALTER MATTHAU REQUESTED THEM AT HIS FUNERAL.

Image of actor Walter Matthau
Staff, Getty Images

Although he died in California, the Grumpy Old Men star stayed loyal to his New York roots, requesting Nathan's hot dogs by name in his will. There were also fortune cookies, celebrating his Oscar-winning turn in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie.

9. THE COMPANY ALMOST WENT UNDER IN THE '80S.

Image of Original Nathan's Famous Frankfurters sign
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After soaring through the '70s, when the company stock hit a high of $41 per share, the market for hot dogs grew stale, and Nathan's stock dwindled to $1 in 1981. Despite calls to further diversify the menu, Murray Handwerker stuck with the original hot dog, and slowly the company improved. In 1986, it sold its 20 stores and packaged products business to investment firm Equicorp for $19 million.

10. A FAMILY BUSINESS MEANS THERE'S FAMILY DRAMA.

Image of New York City signs for the cross street between East 34th Street and 5th Avenue
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Nathan's two sons, Murray and Sol, didn't see eye to eye on how to run the business. So in 1963, Sol broke away from Nathan's Famous and started his own hot dog shop, Snacktime, on 34th Street in Manhattan. It closed in 1977—three years after Nathan passed away. "My father could not handle the conflict between Murray and myself," Sol tells his son Lloyd in Famous Nathan.

11. IT REOPENED AFTER HURRICANE SANDY IN TRUE NEW YORK STYLE.

Image of the original Nathan's Famous Coney Island location at night
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Less than six months after Hurricane Sandy flooded the Coney Island location, Nathan's Famous was back in business, and better than ever. The multimillion-dollar renovation allowed the company to add some upscale flourishes, including an oyster bar and a selection of beer and wine.

12. THE HISTORY OF THE HOT DOG EATING CONTEST IS SHROUDED IN MYSTERY—AND DECEPTION.

Image of competitors at the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating competition in 2017 (I think)
Alex Wroblewski/Stringer, Getty Images

According to legend (and the company), the first ever hot dog eating contest took place on July 4, 1916 between four men arguing over who was the most patriotic. They set to scarfing down Nathan's hot dogs, with the winner, James Mullen, eating 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes.

The true story, however, is a little harder to pin down. According to Insider, there's no evidence of a hot dog competition being held before 1972. Mortimer Matz, a public relations professional who worked with Nathan's Famous, told The New York Times in 2010 that the legend was a fabrication intended to improve sales.

"In Coney Island pitchman style, we made it up," Matz told the paper.

13. THE CURRENT HOT DOG EATING CHAMP IS A ONE-MAN DYNASTY.

Image of Joey Chestnut standing on a scale and holding the prize-winning mustard yellow bet for winning the hot dog eating competition
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Since 2007, Joey Chestnut has won the Mustard Yellow Belt, the top prize at Nathan's hot dog eating competition, a whopping 10 times. In 2015, the Californian briefly lost his title to Matt Stonie, who beat him 62 hot dogs to 60. Chestnut holds the world hot-dog eating record—he consumed 73.5 Nathan's Famous hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Ranked the No. 1 competitive eater in the world, Chestnut holds a slew of nauseating 10-minute records, including nearly 13 pounds of deep-fried asparagus, 47 grilled cheese sandwiches, 25.5 pounds of poutine, and a whole turkey.

14. BUSINESS IS BOOMING THESE DAYS.

Image of people sitting under umbrellas at the original Nathan's Famous location
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Nathan’s $1-a-share days are well in the past, with sales and revenue up year over year. The company has stayed in the high-margin businesses of franchising and brand licensing, and its iconic hot dogs are sold in restaurants and stadiums around the country. It's also gone international, with locations in Russia, Mexico and Malaysia. How do you say "pass the mustard" in Malay?

This story originally ran in 2016.

Winner of Reynolds Wrap Contest Will Get Paid $10,000 to Sample the Country's Best BBQ

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iStock/bhofack2

Which American city has the best barbecue is the root of one of the country's oldest culinary debates. As Thrillist reports, Reynolds Wraps is looking for one unbiased individual to travel the United States sampling barbecue ribs to determine which location makes them best—and the aluminum foil brand will pay them $10,000 for their trouble.

The winner of the 2019 Reynolds Wrap contest will take a two-week trip to "some of the most notorious BBQ cities," which last year included Nashville, Memphis, Kansas City, Dallas, and Austin. As Chief Grilling Officer, the smoked meat connoisseur will be tasked with identifying the best barbecue ribs in America, with Reynolds providing travel, lodging, and a $10,000 stipend for them and a guest to make the journey as smooth as possible. In return, the company asks that the CGO share grilling tips, techniques, and photos of their feasts to its website and social channels.

According to Reynolds Wrap, the position is perfect for anyone who doesn't mind "being paid to taste test some of the most delicious BBQ ribs across the country, posting envy-inducing pictures of your food and falling asleep every night dreaming about your next rack of ribs." Anyone can apply by submitting a photo of themselves grilling their favorite recipe along with 100 words pitching themselves for the job to careers@ReynoldsWrapCGO.com. The application deadline is June 19 and the barbecue tour starts sometime in August.

If you're not selected the contest winner, that shouldn't stop you from planning your own barbecue-themed road trip this summer. Here are some of the best barbecue cities in the country and where to eat in each one.

[h/t Thrillist]

8 Things You Might Not Know About LongHorn Steakhouse

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Since its founding in 1981, LongHorn Steakhouse has become a familiar destination for those seeking sirloins and strip steaks. With more than 500 restaurants across the country and a 5 percent total sales growth in 2018 [PDF], LongHorn has definitely branded itself as a cut above in the steakhouse market. Dig into these facts about the dinner chain.

1. The original LongHorn location was once an adult bookstore.

George McKerrow Jr., a part-time bartender, opened the first LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon in Atlanta in August 1981. Before remodeling the building as a restaurant, though, it was an x-rated video- and bookstore. McKerrow added tablecloths, a jukebox, and bumper stickers to the walls, but he kept the back-lit booths that were once used for watching short peepshow videos.

2. LongHorn almost never got off the ground.

After LongHorn opened, it had a rough time taking off. "I had quit my previous job, fronted a lot of my own money, had a young daughter, and I was spending my days building that restaurant, literally, with my own two hands," McKerrow told The Atlantan in 2018. At the end of the first month, LongHorn was serving just a handful of meals a day, with McKerrow cooking, waiting tables, and washing the dishes.

3. A snowstorm saved the restaurant.

By January 1982, McKerrow was weeks away from shutting down LongHorn. But then one night, it started to snow—something that is a real rarity in Atlanta (and that particular storm is still known as the Snow Jam of '82). Drivers soon abandoned their cars on the roads, and LongHorn became a shelter from the freak blizzard. "We pulled a sign out front that said 'Drinks $1 While It Snows,'" Dave George, a former president of LongHorn Steakhouse told AirTran Magazine in 2006. "So all these people forced to pull over walked in 'til they filled the place up. And over the storm's three days, the steaks plus the genuinely friendly atmosphere surprised people, generating loyalty." By springtime, word-of-mouth had gotten LongHorn off the ground.

4. LongHorn really is all about the meat.

A slab of steak on a white plate with a knife
Yelp Inc, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It was McKerrow's passion for grilling and dream of serving the perfect steak that led him to open the restaurant. Today, menus revolve around including ribeyes, T-bones, their signature porterhouse, a slow-roasted prime rib, and Flo's Filet, which LongHorn says was named for a server who loved that particular cut.

5. McKerrow didn't stop with LongHorn.

After the success of LongHorn, McKerrow expanded his steakhouse empire by opening Capital Grille. In 2002, he teamed up with Ted Turner to launch Ted's Montana Grill, which he is still the president and CEO of today.

6. Employees must complete extensive training to become a LongHorn Grill Master.

Every LongHorn location has two or three employees who have completed the training to be considered "Grill Masters." Once these grill chefs are certifiably ready to tackle any meat order, the best of the best can compete in a company-wide "Steak Master" competition. During the yearly contest, multiple "grill-off" rounds narrow 5000 Grill Masters down to seven for the final showdown. If you live near Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, congratulations—your ribeye might have been seared by 2018 reigning champion Michelle Cerveney.

7. LongHorn has a grill hotline for holiday weekends.

To take some of the pressure off family grill masters during the Fourth of July, LongHorn launched a call-in helpline to answer anyone's burning questions about the art of preparing dinner over flames in 2013. Called the Grill Us Hotline, the program put 25 Grill Masters on call during the evenings of the holiday weekend. The hotline has since continued and been expanded to cover Memorial Day weekend as well.

8. On the web, LongHorn is in an imagined relationship with Denny's.

In one of the more bizarre corners of the internet exists a community of users, especially on blogging site Tumblr, that create anthropomorphized accounts for various restaurant brands. In June 2013, two months after Denny's launched their official Tumblr account, an unofficial Tumblr was created for LongHorn Steakhouse. Whoever ran the site, which has since been deleted, began making references to being in love with Denny's. As things tend to do on the internet, the idea took off and resulted in a community of users who spent their time shipping "Denhouse."

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