14 Hot and Juicy Facts About Nathan's Famous

iStock/FrankvandenBergh
iStock/FrankvandenBergh

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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. Nathan's used to own Kenny Rogers Roasters.

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 Nathan's at his funeral.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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 god eating champ is a one-man dynasty.

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.

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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 and was republished in 2019.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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More Than 38,000 Pounds of Ground Beef Has Been Recalled

Beef-ware.
Beef-ware.
Angele J, Pexels

Your lettuce-based summer salads are safe for the moment, but there are other products you should be careful about using these days: Certain brands of hand sanitizer, for example, have been recalled for containing methanol. And as Real Simple reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recently recalled 38,406 pounds of ground beef.

When JBS Food Canada ULC shipped the beef over the border from its plant in Alberta, Canada, it somehow skirted the import reinspection process, so FSIS never verified that it met U.S. food safety standards. In other words, we don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it—and no reports of illness have been tied to it so far—but eating unapproved beef is simply not worth the risk.

The beef entered the country on July 13 as raw, frozen, boneless head meat products, and Balter Meat Company processed it into 80-pound boxes of ground beef. It was sent to holding locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina before heading to retailers that may not be specific to those four states. According to a press release, FSIS will post the list of retailers on its website after it confirms them.

In the meantime, it’s up to consumers to toss any ground beef with labels that match those here [PDF]. Keep an eye out for lot codes 2020A and 2030A, establishment number 11126, and use-or-freeze-by dates August 9 and August 10.

[h/t Real Simple]