Throughout Hot Dog Stand History Charles Feltman gets credit for the first recorded Hot Dog stand, although I am sure other stands existed before that his was the first to utilize the hot dog to build an empire.
Charles Feltman began his career in 1867 pushing a pie wagon through the sand dunes of Coney Island. Feltman reportedly sold 3,684 sausages on a roll during his first year in business, pushing around a wagon to hungry beachgoers. Four years later he leased a small plot of land and began building an empire that by the early 1900s covered a full city block and consisted of nine restaurants, a roller coaster, a carousel, a ballroom, an outdoor movie theater, a hotel, a beer garden, a bathhouse, a pavilion, a Tyrolean village, two enormous bars, and a maple garden. The restaurant sold millions of ten-cent hot dogs a year but was better known for its shore dinner, a seafood plate including lobster, fish and oysters. By the turn of the century, Feltman had 1,200 waiters working for him, serving as many as 8,000 meals at a time. His place became famous for its seafood, but throughout his immense restaurant, he kept seven grills busy turning out hot dogs for 10 cents each. At one of these grills, a young man named Nathan Handwerker.
Feltman's was said to have served 40,000 hot dogs in just one day. Not only did Feltman know how to feed a hungry crowd, he also had an eye for picking staff, employing Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor as a pianist and singing waiter pair; two men who would go on to achieve their own celebrity. But the most famous alumni of Feltman's, hands down, was Nathan Handwerker,who spent a season slicing rolls and working the grill. By the 1920s Feltman's Ocean Pavilion was serving five million customers a year and was billed as the world's largest restaurant.
In 1916 Nathan Handwerker who had lived on free hot dogs and slept on the floor of Feltman's kitchen,to save his $11 per week salary. by the end of the year, he'd saved $300 and opened a competing stand a few blocks away selling a 5 cent hot dog instead of 10 cents like his former employer. Before long, the subway reached Coney island, and with it a flood of customers and a 5-cent hot dog. Handwerker's Nathan's Famous soon eclipsed his former employer's restaurant who stubbornly held the price at a dime and became a Coney Island icon.
Nathan's began as a nickel hot dog stand with a two-foot grill in Coney Island in 1916 and bears the name of co-founder Nathan Handwerker who started the business with his wife, Ida Handwerker. Ida created the hot dog recipe they used, and Ida's grandmother created the secret spice recipe. Handwerker, was encouraged by singing waiters Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to go into business in competition with his former employer. He and Ida spent their life savings of $300 to begin the business. At a time when food regulation was in its infancy and the pedigree of the hot dog particularly suspect, Handwerker made sure that men wearing surgeon's smocks were seen eating at his stand to reassure potential customers.
Nathan’s popularity was almost instantaneous, and in its earliest days had legendary characters such as Al Capone, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, and Cary Grant as regular customers. It gained its first international exposure when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to the King and Queen of England in 1939. Later, Roosevelt had Nathan’s hot dogs sent to Yalta when he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
Last year there were over 425 million Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs sold! Today, Nathan’s is sold and enjoyed in all 50 States and sold at over 40,000 foodservice and retail outlets.
Thanks to Charles Feltman and Nathan Handwerker we have a rich Hot Dog Stand History that has been continued by many others across the country. From Pink's in California, the "O" Original Hot Dog Shop in Pittsburgh, The Varsity in Atlanta or SuperDawg in Chicago, They can all be traced back to Feltman's and Nathan's Famous. We as Hot Dog lovers owe a great deal of gratitude to these two pioneers for starting the tradition of great hot dog stands across the country.
Interested in a great book about Hot Dog History? Then you will want to read "Man Bites Dog" By Bruce Kraig and Patty Carroll
Check out these other great pages about hot dog history!