Take a hot dog from New York's famed Coney Island, throw in plenty of Greek immigrants and a booming auto industry, add some chili sauce, a steamed bun, chopped onions, mustard and an epic sibling rivalry and you've got the makings of a classic American melting pot story.
That story is told in Coney Detroit, a new book that serves as paean for what's become the quintessential dish of the Motor City. Coneys — a name that designates not just the dogs but the diners that serve them up — dominate the Detroit landscape. Where many other cities offer the chance to navigate by national chain (turn right at the third Starbucks), in Detroit, directions come in Coneys.
"I'm comfortable saying there are about 500 Coneys at any given time," in the Detroit region, says Coney Detroit co-author Joe Grimm, who has done some serious investigative digesting on the project — including visiting 100 Coneys in 100 days. (Proceeds from the book will go to Detroit's Gleaners' Food Bank.)
The history of Detroit Coneys harks back to the early 20th century, when thousands of Greek immigrants were streaming into the city's burgeoning Greektown. But first, they had to stop at New York's Ellis Island — not too far from the famed amusements of Coney Island, where Nathan Handwerker was already peddling his famous hot dogs.
Patrons pack in at American Coney in this undated photo. No one knows for sure who brought the Coney to Detroit, Grimm says, but everyone knows who made it famous: William "Bill" and Constantine "Gust" Keros. Nine decades ago (the exact date is in dispute), the two Greek brothers opened their hot dog joint, American Coney Island, in the heart of downtown Detroit — at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard, where it still sits today.
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