Dyker Heights

Nathan’s Famous serves last franks on 86th Street, locals look back on decades of memories

January 7, 2019 By Todd Maisel Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Raul Fuentes always took his whole family from Staten Island to this particular Nathan's because it was their favorite. Eagle photos by Todd Maisel

Dog-gone it! The Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights Nathan’s is no more.

After more than 40 years at 650 86th Street, the franchise shut down the nearly 20,000-square-foot space on the border of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights after closing on Sunday.

On its last day of business, the place was packed not just with local residents but also with many from outside the community.

“I’m gonna say goodbye and best wishes going forward, and get a large order of cheese fries to go,” said John Landers, a lifelong Ridgeite who lamented the sale. “Do we really need another medical building or a condo here in Bay Ridge? Some things you gotta leave alone.”

Many, like Landers, have been coming to the eatery their entire life. John O’Neill said he had been coming to Nathan’s on 86th Street since he was 14.

“[My friends and I], this was our hangout,” O’Neill said. “35 years later, here ya go.”

Patron Mike Rinaldi shared similar sentiments.

“It was a good hangout,” he said, adding that, even more, “It’s history — a part of the neighborhood for decades. It’s too bad it’ll be gone.”

After 35-years, John O'Gorman, Mike Rinaldi, John O'Neill and Joe Rinaldi are back eating hot dogs at Nathan’s on its last day in operation.
After 35-years, John O’Gorman, Mike Rinaldi, John O’Neill and Joe Rinaldi are back eating hot dogs at Nathan’s on its last day in operation.

 

Frank Natale, 53, stopped by Sunday to take photos and get one last dog — and a batch of Nathan’s one-of-a-kind fries.

“We used to come here all the time as a family,” Natale said. “I’ll miss the fries the most. They’re thick — nobody else makes them like Nathan’s. I wish they wouldn’t sell.”

Frank Natale stopped by to take photos and get a hot dog.
Frank Natale stopped by to take photos and get a hot dog.

 

John Frolind, 50, and Joe Gallagher, 48, had been coming to the eatery for 35 years.

“I loved this place,” Frolind said over his last meal there. “I had some great times here with my dad. I won’t forget that.”

John Frolind and Joe Gallagher of Bay Ridge came to Nathan’s as kids.
John Frolind and Joe Gallagher of Bay Ridge came to Nathan’s as kids.

 

For Mike Kneeter, who enjoyed one last meal there with his mom on Sunday, the franchise also brings back memories of his father. “We’re going to miss this place a lot,” he said. “My dad would take me here a lot. He’s not alive anymore, sadly, but he used to love the hot dogs.”

“I’m coming here since I’m 20,” Kneeter’s mother Debbie Stevens added. “It’s a shame all these stores are closing down. Toys “R” Us, White Castle — all the places we loved are closing.”

The sorrow was not reserved for only longtime residents.

Veronica Daniels, 60, took two buses from her East Flatbush home on Sunday to squeeze in one last meal at the local landmark. “I love Nathan’s hot dogs,” she said, adding that it took her 50 minutes just to get there. “I came to celebrate its last day.”

Nathan’s announced the agreement to sell the company-owned restaurant, including the real estate, in July 2018, as the Brooklyn Eagle first reported, with the sale of the significantly underbuilt lot coming in at $12.25 million in October.

The property had been a Nathan’s since the late ‘70s, before which it was a fast food burger chain named Wetson’s and before that, Mitchell’s Drive-In. It also incorporated an Arthur Treacher’s, specializing in fast food fish and chips.

The question now is: What will replace it?

Given the zoning, what goes there can be quite large. The vast majority of the site is zoned C4-2A, which is the equivalent of a R6A district, according to the Department of City Planning’s Zoning Handbook. Buildings in R6A districts can rise to 70 feet as of right, with a setback required above a base height of 40 to 60 feet.

The C4-2A designation also brings with it significant density with a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) — a measurement that reflects the ratio between the total floor area of the building and the square footage of the lot on which it is built — of 3.0.

While rumors of its replacement have been limited, residents have been very vocal about what they’d like to see there. Top contenders include Shake Shack, Trader Joe’s and a resurrection of Nathan’s predecessor, Mitchell’s.

There have also been talks of a potential deal with the School Construction Authority. The site’s school district is among the most overcrowded in the city, so much so that building new schools in it have become a prime concern for local electeds like Councilmember Justin Brannan.

Either way, locals maintain the sale reflects the end of an important chapter in southern Brooklyn history.

Olga Awan, who’s been going to the 86th Street Nathan’s since she was just 2 years old and would grow up to bring her children, called the closing an “end of an era.”

The same heartache carried over for Bensonhurst resident Dario Veloso.

“It’s messed up,” the 53-year-old said. “I’ve been coming here since I’m 12. It’s here over 40 years. They should keep it open.”

Landers agreed.

“I’m gonna miss these guys,” he said.

A sign on the business’ front doors thanked patrons for “40 years of friendship and great memories.”

 

Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick.

Hot dogs and French fries are the hallmark of Nathan’s.
Hot dogs and French fries are the hallmark of Nathan’s.