Coney Island (restaurant)
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Genealogy of the name
Coney Islands are a unique type of Greek American restaurant. Two of the most well-known Coney Island restaurants are the Lafayette Coney Island and the American Coney Island, which are located adjacent to one another on Lafayette St. in downtown Detroit. They have a common root, with the original restaurant having been established by Greek immigrant brothers Bill and Gus Keros in 1914. The brothers got into business dispute soon thereafter, and in 1917 split their restaurant into the two establishments that exist today.
The menu of all Coney Island restaurants centers on the Coney Island hot dog, which is a natural casing hot dog in a steamed bun dressed with chili, diced onions, and yellow mustard. This item is usually referred to simply as a "coney." Another popular item on most Coney Island restaurant menus is the "loose hamburger," which consists of crumbled ground beef in a hot dog bun, covered in the same condiments as a Coney Island hot dog. Many Coney Islands also serve "chili fries," which are french fries covered in chili, sometimes with mustard or cheese added.
Many Coney Islands offer other Greek and Greek-American dishes, such as Gyros, Souvlaki, Shish Kebab, Spanakopita, Saganaki, and Greek salads, as well as usual American diner fare, such as regular hamburgers, sandwiches, breakfast items, and desserts.
Growth of the Coney Island restaurant
Since the owners of the first Coney Island restaurants did not trademark the name or business plan, many other restaurants began using the same name and formula. Coney Islands were opened throughout the city by Greek immigrants, though since the 1970s, the vast majority of coney islands have been run by Albanian immigrants and their descendants.
Coney Islands have developed a distinctive dining style is repeated in hundreds of different restaurants throughout the metropolitan Detroit area and elsewhere in Michigan and other nearby states. There are some regional variations though, such as the chili sauce, which is more liquid in Detroit area Coney Island restaurants compared to the dryer sauce served in Coney Island restaurants served in the nearby Flint, Michigan area.
Many Greek diners in Buffalo, New York and throughout upstate New York and New Jersey are similar in format to Detroit-style Coney Islands, even serving their own style of dogs, called a Texas Hot or Texas Wiener. Unlike the Coney Island restaurants in Detroit, though, the Texas Hot is often not the dominant menu item in these establishments.
Coney Island restaurant chains
National Coney Island
National Coney Island is the oldest Coney Island restaurant chain in Michigan with locations including Detroit, St. Clair Shores, and other Metro Detroit area cities.:27 Greek immigrant James Griftos is credited with founding the National Chili Company after acquiring the company from the previous owners in 1964. Shortly after, he opened the first National Coney Island in 1965 in Macomb Mall of Roseville, Michigan. The venue was small and seated about 40 customers. The menu consisted of Coney Island hot dogs and loose hamburgers with a few snacks and beverages. National uses the chili from its affiliate, National Chili Company. National has their hot dogs made by Alexander & Hornung out of St. Clair Shores. Metropolitan Baking Company which is based in Hamtramck, Michigan, supplies the buns. The signature dishes and their ingredients haven’t changed over the years, but the menu was expanded to the typical menus of most Coney Islands.
Over the years, the business expanded to more than 20 locations primarily in east Metro Detroit with the original location still in operation. As the chain grew, the interior evolved into a classy atmosphere with bright neon lights and brass fixtures. Tom Giftos Jr., son of James Griftos, took over the family business after James Griftos’ passing in 2001 and began to implement National Coney Island “express” locations, a food court variation of his father’s coney islands.:27 “Coney kits” are now sold through the business and consists of the company’s hot dogs and chili sauce and comes with buns, mustard and onions.
Leo's Coney Island
The Leo’s Coney Island chain was created by Greek brothers Peter and Leo Stassinopoulos. The brothers are nephews to Bill and Gust Keros who founded American and Lafayette Coney Islands. Peter and Leo worked at local Coney Island restaurants until they opened their own Coney Island in 1972 called the Southfield Souvlaki Coney Island in Southfield, Michigan. One location was opened in 1978 in Michigan and another in 1982 in Farmington Hills. In 1988, the name Leo’s Coney Island was given to their newest location in Troy, Michigan. From then on, the chain took on the name Leo’s Coney Island. The brothers began franchising in 2005 and are now the largest Coney Island chain in Southeast Michigan.:24 Within Michigan, Leo’s Coney Islands have reached as far as Flint where they offer both styles of the Coney Island hot dog. The first Leo’s outside of Michigan was launched in February 2010 in Chicago, Illinois but closed on September 28, 2011.
They gained local fame for their Coney Island hot dogs and Greek salads with a Greek salad dressing recipe passed down from generations. Leo’s uses buns from the Metropolitan Baking Company and the coney sauce consists of chili from the National Chili Company combined with a spicy chili from the Milton Chili Company located in Madison Heights. The natural casing hot dogs are supplied by the Koegel Meat Company which gives the Leo's Coney Island coney a sweet and smoky taste from the natural hardwood smoke that Koegel uses to make its hot dogs.
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