Before the gut-busting eating contests and franchise stores across the country, there was a single man, Nathan Handwerker. An Eastern European Jewish immigrant who left the small provincial world he knew for a fresh start in America, Nathan arrived at Ellis Island speaking not a word of English, unable to read or write, and with twenty-five dollars hidden in his shoes. He had a simple goal: work hard and carve out a piece of the American dream. But history had bigger plans for Nathan.
Beginning in 1916, with just five feet of counter space on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue, Nathan sells his frankfurters for five cents. As New York booms, bringing trains and patrons to the seashore, so too does Nathan’s humble frankfurter stand. Soon Nathan’s Famous takes over the whole block, and Nathan gathers around him a dedicated core of workers (many who stay for decades) who help launch the hot dog as an American food staple.
Even as the business soars, Nathan remains fiercely loyal to what matters most: his customers, workers, and family. There’s Ida, the wife he fell in love with because no one could peel an onion faster; Sammy, the counterman who could serve an astonishing sixty franks per minute; and then there are the heirs to the empire, Murray and Sol, whose differing visions for the future lead to clashes with their eternally demanding father. Success brings difficulties, and as the two sons vie over control of the family business, a universal story of success and ambition plays out, mirroring the corporatization of the American food industry.
Written by Nathan’s own grandson, and at once a portrait of a man, a family, and the changing face of a nation through a century of promise and progress, Famous Nathan is a dog's tale that snaps and satisfies with every page.