“There’s one Babe Ruth in baseball, there was one Einstein in science, and one Nathan in the food business,” someone interviewed in the new documentary film Famous Nathan, about the Coney Island hot dog chain founder, says. This film is a personal journey for director Lloyd Handwerker, a grandson of founder Nathan Handwerker, who interviewed family members, Nathan’s workers, and put together archival film and audio and family home videos, to share this story on the centennial anniversary of the hot dog company.
An employee recounts, “Nathan’s was one of the wildest, most tripped out jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve had quite a few,” and scenes show the organized chaos behind the counter. Famous Nathan, which was an official selection at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, is the quintessential immigrant story. Handwerker arrived in the United States from Poland and learned English on the job working in a restaurant in Manhattan.
As Frank Scheck from The Hollywood Reporter writes, Handwerker was “a hands-on proprietor who believed in the virtue of hard work and who personally oversaw every aspect of his operation,” but he also got his first stroke of luck when he decided to lower the price of his hot dogs from ten cents to five cents.
But the documentary also gets into the meatier family drama between Nathan’s sons, Sol, Lloyd’s father and Murray, and their respective turmoiled relationship with their father. Today, Nathan’s Famous is no longer run by the Handwerker family, and you’ll see why in the documentary.
Next, check out the history of hot dogs in NYC and the battle between Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King.