Handwerker, a Polish Jew, immigrated to the United States in 1912. In addition to working as a delivery boy, he found work slicing rolls of bread at Feltman's German Gardens, a restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. The restaurant sold franks (hot dogs) for ten cents a piece at the time.
In 1916, two of Handwerker's co-workers, future actors Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, who worked as singing waiters at Feltman's, challenged Handwerker to start his own hot dog stand selling franks for just five cents a piece. 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. They spiced their hot dogs with Ida's secret recipe and sold them for only a nickel.
On March 23, 1974, Nathan Handwerker suffered a heart attack at his home in North Port Charlotte, Florida. He died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida, on Sunday, March 24, 1974. He was buried at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York.
- "Nathan Handwerker obituary". The Daily Sentinel. 1974-03-25. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- Abelson, Reed (2011-05-15). "Murray Handwerker, 89, Dies; Made Nathan’s More Famous". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "Murray Handwerker dies at 89; Nathan's Famous owner expanded nationwide". Los Angeles Times. 2011-05-22. Retrieved 2011-05-22.