Coney Island has been serving its delicious hot dogs for generations to generations every day, but Tuesday, since Catherine and George Tsagarelis opened in 1929.
There has been a lunch counter at the Southbridge Street location since 1918 but Catherine and George made it the landmark it is today. After buying the business, they quickly focused on the humble wiener as their main menu item.
In 1938 they renovated the restaurant in the utilitarian art deco style that it boasts today. The cost of one hot dog today would have fed a couple of hungry families in 1929 when the wieners were a nickel each.
According to Kathryn Tsandikos (George and Catherine’s granddaughter), her grandmother, who died in 2000, had this insurmountable energy. She worked all day and night, sometimes until 3 am, and she still had time for family, church and friends. She was a woman ahead of her time. When we were growing up, other grandmothers would be home baking baklava and spanakopita. She'd be either running Coney Island or scooping us up and driving to Bridgeport or New York City or the Cape for a swim.
George Tsagarelis died in 1980, and the famous Coney Island sign remains as a reminder of his legacy. The iconic neon sign was his idea. He held up a dog and someone took a picture. Then the sign was modeled after it.
When George and Catherine had the time, they would eat out at their favorite Worcester restaurants, which included Putnam and Thurston's, the Eden Gardens, the Montrose and El Morocco. All were fine establishments in their time, but it's interesting to note that all are long gone. George’s Coney Island, however, has endured through a depression, two world wars and a dozen presidents.
What is Coney Island's secret? The between-wars ambience of the building. The unapologetically splendiferous sign. The secret chili sauce. The American love affair with the hot dog. All may have had a part to play in the business' success, but Kathryn Tsandikos also thinks her grandmother made Coney Island.
“No matter who came in–politicians, presidents of banks, the homeless – she treated everyone the same,” Kathryn said. “During the Depression they would give away hot dogs to boys from the Boys Club who didn't have a nickel to buy a hot dog. People remember that.”
“To the very end she wanted to know about the business, she would offer advice and she was thrilled that the family was still in it,” Kathryn said. “When I told her that our children plan to work there, that brought a smile to her face. She really lived for Coney Island.”
Although George’s Coney Island has received many awards and accolades, the kind words from regulars and visitors is what keeps the doors open year after year.
You say it best. Read some of our testimonials.
My first trip to Coney Island was around 1984. I snuck out of Worcester Academy at lunch with a friend.
My friend said this is how you order "Five UP!! Extra meat sauce!!" I have been going ever since. – Edward Page
Oh the memories that flash back in my mind when ever we go there. Went there as a young kid with my sisters and our parents and also with our grandparents.
I remember my sister Anita bringing a few chili dogs to the hospital for me in after I had each of my two kids. – Gail Cole Philbrook