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Oct 20, 2015

Growing up in New Jersey, my grandparents frequently took me by bus and train out to Brooklyn to visit my Great-Aunt Bess and Great-Uncle Max. Sometimes, we stayed in their tiny apartment and Aunt Bess cooked. But sometimes, my grandfather and I went off and spent the day at Coney Island, riding the rides and eating a hot dog and fries at the block-long Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand right on the boardwalk. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

LLOYD HANDWERKER podcast excerpt: "There was no semblance of a line at Nathan's. There were one area where you could only buy the hot dogs, one area where you could only get the drinks, and one area where you could only get the hamburgers -- unlike most fast food places, and what Nathan's does today. It might seem chaotic, but workers had a method of looking at the crowd and figuring out who they were going to serve next."

Last night, I watched Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary film, Famous Nathan, and it brought all the memories – the tastes, the smells and the sights – rushing back to me. Handwerker is the grandson of the founder of Nathan’s, Nathan Handwerker. And while he himself never worked in the family business, he has put together a movie packed with old film, pictures and interviews that immediately took me back in time to a place I treasured visiting with my own grandfather. Or, as I told my wife, it took me to a place I had recalled hundreds of times in dreams and never thought I’d see that way again.

LLOYD HANDWERKER podcast excerpt: "My grandfather was the first to integrate the counter, around 1949. Coney Island was pretty segregated at that time."

To quote the film’s description of Nathan Handwerker: “There was one Babe Ruth in baseball, one Einstein in science, and one Nathan in the food business.”


Famous Nathan captures a moment – and a salty, kosher taste – in time, replete with enough dirty family laundry – this brother hated that one! Mama never loved Papa! So-and-so was cheap! -- to give anyone a delicious nosh, whether you’ve ever been to Coney Island or not.

Key interview moments:

• 6:10 Making sense of the chaos that also made Nathan's of Coney Island famous (besides the hot dogs);

• 14:40 Why there is no biography of Nathan Handwerker;

• 27:25 How the founder of Nathan's integrated his food counter.

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