The Penniless Immigrant Behind a Hot Dog Empire



Coney Island is famous for its seashores, sideshows, and salty breezes. But, of course, it’s also famous for its hot dogs—Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, that is. You may know it as the site of the similarly famous gut-clogging hot-dog eating contest.

Just in time for the iconic Brooklyn hot-doggery’s centennial is Famous Nathan, a new documentary by Lloyd Handwerker, grandson of Nathan Handwerker—yes, that Nathan.

Lloyd began interviewing family members and former employees of the store over thirty years ago, amassing 300 hours of material. The film (trailer here) is a joy to watch, a blend of animation, archival footage, home movies, and even audio recordings of Nathan himself, a Polish immigrant who arrived in New York in 1912 with no money and no English.

It’s no wonder the film won the Audience Award at the 2015 Jewish Film Festival in Berlin. That it won the Best Documentary Feature at the Coney Island Film Festival seems like a given. The old footage is a delight to watch: a fast-food pundit interviewed for the film suggested that the early years of Nathan’s may have been something like a combination of a cronut line and a Babylonian orgy.

Just remember to wait a while before riding the infamous Cyclone roller coaster. Or maybe just avoid it altogether.

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