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Nathan Handwerker (June 14, 1892 – March 24, 1974)[1] was the founder of an iconic hot dog stand that evolved into Nathan's Famous restaurants and related Nathan's retail product line. An immigrant from Poland, he and his wife Ida borrowed $300 from friends[2] to start their business on Coney Island in 1916. As of 2016, Nathan's operates over 400 company owned and franchised restaurants in all 50 states and 17 foreign countries, and Nathan's brand products are found in some 45,000 stores across the United States.[3]

Nathan Handwerker
Born(1892-06-14)June 14, 1892
DiedMarch 24, 1974(1974-03-24) (aged 81)
Known forNathan's Famous


Handwerker was born in Galicia,[4][5] a former kingdom and constituent part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that roughly spanned the contemporary Poland-Ukraine border. One of 13 children of a poor Jewish shoemaker, he immigrated to the United States in 1912.[4][5] Handwerker found work as a delivery boy and later obtained a job slicing bread rolls at Feltman's German Gardens, a restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn.[6] The restaurant sold franks (hot dogs) for 10 cents each.[6]

By one account, Handwerker was encouraged by singing waiters Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to go into business in competition with Feltman's; as United Press International noted in 1974, "There are many stories about Nathan and how the business began, but this is the way he told it..."[6] The company's official history does not mention the encouragement of those two entertainers.[2] Nathan and Ida spent their life savings of $300 to begin the business.[7] That same year, with $300, Handwerker and his new wife, Ida Handwerker, opened a small hot dog stand with a two-foot grill on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island.[7] They spiced their hot dogs with Ida's secret recipe and sold them for a nickel.[2]

Handwerker named his previously unnamed hot dog stand Nathan's Hot Dogs in 1921 after Sophie Tucker, then a singer at the nearby Carey Walsh's Cafe, made a hit of the song "Nathan, Nathan, Why You Waitin?"[7]

The food stand developed into the fast food chain Nathan's Famous, spearheaded by his son, Murray Handwerker.[8][9]

On March 23, 1974, Nathan Handwerker suffered a heart attack at his home in North Port Charlotte, Florida.[6] He died March 24, 1974, per differing accounts at either St. Joseph's Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida,[6] or at Sarasota General Hospital, in Sarasota, Florida.[7] He was buried at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York.[6]


  1. ^ Nathan Handwerker at the United States Social Security Death Index via Retrieved on July 24, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Nathan's Famous History". Nation's Famous official website. Archived from the original on July 7, 2008. Retrieved July 24, 2015.
  3. ^ Nathan's retail product line
  4. ^ a b Nathan Handwerker, 1973 interview in Handwerker, Lloyd, director (2015). Famous Nathan (film). Loquat Films.
  5. ^ a b Lovece, Frank (July 23, 2015). "Film Review: Famous Nathan". Film Journal International. Archived from the original on September 15, 2015. Retrieved September 15, 2015. ...he described his 1892 birth in Galicia, a former kingdom on the present-day site of the Poland and Ukraine border. One of 13 children of an shoemaker, he lived and worked in a bakery in another town for two years beginning at age 11. He later lived with his brother in Belgium, and saved enough for a steerage ticket from Holland to Ellis Island.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Inventor of Coney Islands Cut Hot Dogs to Five Cent". The Daily Sentinel. Pomeroy-Middleport, Ohio. United Press International. March 25, 1974. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Handwerker of Nathan's Famous Dies; Turned His Coney Island Hot Dogs Into Food Sought Worldwide". The New York Times. May 25, 1974. Retrieved July 24, 2014. Abstract of subscription article. Note: Source gives age as 83, although Handwerker in Famous Nathan documentary gives his birth year as 1892, which agrees with June 14, 1892, birth date at the Social Security Death Index.
  8. ^ Abelson, Reed (May 15, 2011). "Murray Handwerker, 89, Dies; Made Nathan's More Famous". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 24, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
  9. ^ "Murray Handwerker dies at 89; Nathan's Famous owner expanded nationwide". Los Angeles Times. May 22, 2011. Archived from the original on February 21, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2011.