Coney Island

Coney Island street renamed in honor of Nathan’s Famous founders

‘Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way’ at Corner of Surf and Stillwell Aves.

September 29, 2016 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: State Assemblymember Pamela Harris, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, William Handwerker, Steven Handwerker, David Sternshein, Kenneth Handwerker and Councilmember Mark Treyger Eagle photos by Arthur De Gaeta
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On Saturday, Sept. 24, the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues in Coney Island officially became Nathan and Ida Handwerker Way in tribute to the founders of Nathan’s Famous on the eatery’s 100th anniversary.  

Nathan’s started out as a 5-by-8-foot hot dog stand in 1916 in Coney Island. The restaurant was founded by Nathan Handwerker.  Nathan, a Polish immigrant, was born in 1892.  He emigrated from Poland to New York in 1912 and found work at the Coney Island restaurant Feltman’s German Gardens. A true entrepreneur, Handwerker decided to open his own business, a small stand, where he would concentrate on hot dogs and sell them for a nickel, while Feltman’s was selling them for a dime. He spent his entire lifesavings of $300 to open Nathan’s Famous.

Ida Greenwald was born in Poland on Sept. 27, 1897.  She came to the U.S. as a teenager and settled in Brooklyn with her family. Ida, also a hard worker, was employed at another food stand where she was noticed by Nathan. He observed her work ethic and eventually hired her to work for him. They fell in love and were married in October of 1918.

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Ida worked side by side with Nathan while raising three children, Leah, Murray and Sol.  She developed the unique spice formula that made Nathan’s frankfurters famous.  The new business took off, and soon people from all over were coming to Nathan’s for their 5-cent hot dogs.

Coney Island was America’s playground when the Handwerkers opened their hot dog stand. There were three competing theme parks: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park, as well as racetracks and other forms of entertainment. People used to come there as a vacation destination. In fact, during the late 1800s, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the U.S.

Nathan and Ida were very supportive of the Coney Island community. They believed that if you worked hard and were a loyal employee, you deserved to be treated with respect regardless of background or ethnicity. They both worked together at the restaurant for more than 50 years until their retirement in 1971. Through their perseverance and determination, they achieved the American Dream. Nathan died in 1974 and Ida in 1976.  

Together, Nathan and Ida left behind a legacy that has attracted people from all walks of life, from hard-working laborers to movie stars and presidents. Al Capone, Jimmy Durante and Cary Grant were regulars. Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served Nathan’s to the King and Queen of England when they visited him, and later had Nathan’s hot dogs sent to Yalta when he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

The business began to grow in 1959 under the direction of Nathan and Ida’s son, Murray. Murray succeeded Nathan as president of Nathan’s Famous, and the company went public in 1967, which helped to expand the business on multiple fronts.

Jerry Seinfeld revolved an entire episode of his show “Seinfeld” around a trip to Nathan’s, and sports legends like Joe Namath and Joe DiMaggio have proclaimed Nathan’s the “world’s best hot dog.”

Last year alone, more than 550 million Nathan’s Famous hot dogs were sold, and today, Nathan’s can be found in all 50 states, with more than 53,000 locations, including at shopping centers, airports, movie theaters, train stations and ballparks. And the annual Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, held since the early ’70s, has become a much-anticipated Fourth of July staple.

This past weekend’s street-naming brought out many dignitaries and elected officials. Along with Nathan and Ida’s grandchildren — William, Steven and Kenneth Handwerker and David Stershein — the program featured remarks from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilmember Mark Treyger, state Assemblymember Pamela Harris, Brooklyn Community Board 13 District Manager Eddie Marks and Nathan’s former President Wayne Norbitz.  

William Handwerker, former Senior Vice President of Nathan’s Famous, has written “Nathan’s Famous: The First 100 Years of America’s Favorite Frankfurter,” a book that chronicles the history of the iconic restaurant along with intimate family memories and priceless photos of historic Coney Island.

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