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.

Image of the original Nathan's Famous location in Coney Island
iStock

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.

Image of a man in a white shirt holding four hot dogs
iStock

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.


iStock

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
iStock

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. 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.

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
iStock

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.

Image of the original Nathan's Famous Coney Island location at night
iStock

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 god 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
iStock

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.

You Can Now Order—and Donate—Girl Scout Cookies Online

It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts may have temporarily suspended both cookie booths and door-to-door sales to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be deprived of your annual supply of everyone’s favorite boxed baked goods. Instead, you can now order Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and all the other classic cookies online—or donate them to local charities.

When you enter your ZIP code on the “Girl Scouts Cookie Care” page, it’ll take you to a digital order form for the nearest Girl Scouts organization in your area. Then, simply choose your cookies—which cost $5 or $6 per box—and check out with your payment and shipping information. There’s a minimum of four boxes for each order, and shipping fees vary based on quantity.

Below the list of cookies is a “Donate Cookies” option, which doesn’t count toward your own order total and doesn’t cost any extra to ship. You get to choose how many boxes to donate, but the Girl Scouts decide which kinds of cookies to send and where exactly to send them (the charity, organization, or group of people benefiting from your donation is listed on the order form). There’s a pretty wide range of recipients, and some are specific to healthcare workers—especially in regions with particularly large coronavirus outbreaks. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, for example, are sending donations to NYC Health + Hospitals, while the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have simply listed “COVID-19 Responders” as their recipients.

Taking their cookie business online isn’t the only way the Girl Scouts are adapting to the ‘stay home’ mandates happening across the country. They’ve also launched “Girl Scouts at Home,” a digital platform filled with self-guided activities so Girl Scouts can continue to learn skills and earn badges without venturing farther than their own backyard. Resources are categorized by grade level and include everything from mastering the basics of coding to building a life vest for a Corgi (though the video instructions for that haven’t been posted yet).

“For 108 years, Girl Scouts has been there in times of crisis and turmoil,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a press release. “And today we are stepping forward with new initiatives to help girls, their families, and consumers connect, explore, find comfort, and take action.”

You can order cookies here, and explore “Girl Scouts at Home” here.

Can't Find Yeast? Grow Your Own at Home With a Sourdough Starter

Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images
Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images

Baking bread can relieve stress and it requires long stretches of time at home that many of us now have. But shoppers have been panic-buying some surprising items since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to pantry staples like rice and beans, yeast packets are suddenly hard to find in grocery stores. If you got the idea to make homemade bread at the same time as everyone on your Instagram feed, don't let the yeast shortage stop you. As long as you have flour, water, and time, you can grow your own yeast at home.

While many bread recipes call for either instant yeast or dry active yeast, sourdough bread can be made with ingredients you hopefully already have on hand. The key to sourdough's unique, tangy taste lies in its "wild" yeast. Yeast is a single-celled type of fungus that's abundant in nature—it's so abundant, it's floating around your home right now.

To cultivate wild yeast, you need to make a sourdough starter. This can be done by combining one cup of flour (like whole grain, all-purpose, or a mixture of the two) with a half cup of cool water in a bowl made of nonreactive material (such as glass, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic). Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let it sit in a fairly warm place (70°F to 75°F) for 24 hours.

Your starter must be fed with one cup of flour and a half cup of water every day for five days before it can be used in baking. Sourdough starter is a living thing, so you should notice is start to bubble and grow in size over time (it also makes a great low-maintenance pet if you're looking for company in quarantine). On the fifth day, you can use your starter to make dough for sourdough bread. Here's a recipe from King Arthur Flour that only calls for starter, flour, salt, and water.

If you just want to get the urge to bake out of your system, you can toss your starter once you're done with it. If you plan on making sourdough again, you can use the same starter indefinitely. Starters have been known to live in people's kitchens for decades. But to avoid using up all your flour, you can store yours in the fridge after the first five days and reduce feedings to once a week.

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