Monday, October 11, 2010

A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Again)

Last Saturday we went to the Grand Opening! of Nathan's Famous (hot dogs) at 5050 Rosecrans, Hawthorne (

Richie had carefully clipped out the ad which promised a drawing on Friday, more stuff on Saturday and Sunday but all weekend long -- buy one hot dog and get the second for only a nickel! His eyes glistened with tears of joy as he hustled me into the car and off we roared.

Only to discover that this great sale takes place next weekend, not that weekend. We glanced at each other, shrugged and said, as one, "Well, as long as we're already here..."

Richie has known about/eaten Nathan's all of his life. He was born in Brooklyn and the family often visited Coney Island. Incidentally, Nathan's is pronounced NATE-unzz.

What neither of us knew was The History of Nathan's which is conveniently printed on the place mat in the serving tray.

There definitely was a real person involved. His full name was Nathan Handwerker and he was born in Poland on July 14, 1892. He immigrated to Coney Island in 1912 and four short years later, he opened his first hot dog stand, using a recipe for the dogs given him by his fiancee Ida.

But to open at all, he had to borrow $300 from his friends Jimmie Durante and Eddie Cantor. Another friend who frequented the place (but you wouldn't want to borrow money from him) was Al Capone. In 1921, he hired a comely redhead named Clara Bowtinelli as a waitress. She went on to stardom as Clara Bow. Cary Grant, working then as Archie Leach in 1924, wore a sandwich signboard around the Boardwalk to publicize the store.

Prohibition ended in 1933 and on that glorious day, Nathan served all of his customers a free beer.

Scandal arose in 1939! Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited the United States and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invited the royal pair to a picnic at his and Eleanor's country estate. The whole country rose up in alarm and chagrin when it became known that FDR served the royals hot dogs! The horror! Guess whose hot dogs they were? Why Nathan's, of course!

More recently:
1998 A trip to Coney Island and a visit to Nathan's was an episode on "Seinfeld."
2004 The first Nathan's opened in Kuwait.
2005 The first Nathan's opened in the Dominican Republic.
2009 The NY Yankees and the NY Mets both opened new stadiums where Nathan's Famous and French fries are now sold.

Nathan himself died, age 82, in 1974. No further mention of "Ida the fiancee" was made in this particular history.

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