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Posts Tagged ‘Nathan’s’

Nathan and Ida Handwerker

Nathan Handwerker and Ida Handwerker at the 50th anniversary of Nathan’s, 1966. Photo By Daniel Farrell. Courtesy of Loquat Films

Nathan Handwerker, the founder of Nathan’s Famous hot dog empire, is a mythic figure in Coney Island history. The story of the young Polish immigrant working at Feltman’s and saving his salary to open a competing restaurant where hot dogs sold for a nickel instead of a dime is the stuff of legend. His grandson Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary Famous Nathan humanizes him and at the same time makes us see that he truly was larger than life. The film premiered on Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be screened again on April 25 and 26.

The opening scene is a sweet first memory in a remarkably candid family memoir: Lloyd and his sister are children being fed loquats plucked from a tree by their grandfather. The documentary is told through home movies, archival photos and footage, the filmmaker’s interviews with a colorful cast of characters including family members and former Nathan’s workers, and the voice of Famous Nathan himself. A 16-minute oral history, condensed from nearly four hours taped by Lloyd’s cousin David Sternshein when their grandfather was 82 is central to the narrative. The cadence of Nathan’s voice and his story reverberate in the imagination even after the film is over: “I want to go to America. I was dreaming about it.”

Nathan says he could neither read nor write, but that he had common sense. His ingenuity is evident every step of the way, from sleeping with his money in his shoes during the voyage, to calling out customers’ orders one at a time at his first restaurant job since he didn’t know a word of English, to keeping the frankfurters from spoiling by storing them in a barrel between layers of ice. He courted his wife-to-be Ida when she opened a little stand next door to his own. Remember those vintage photos of Nathan’s in which the cars are double and triple parked out front? Well, no one ever got a ticket because the cops on the beat were paid $2 a day and all they could eat.

The other side of this successful immigrant’s story is that Nathan was a workaholic, who was by all accounts highly critical of the store’s managers including his sons Murray and Sol. “If he didn’t say anything, he wasn’t criticizing you,” says one of the former managers, who clearly idolized him nonetheless. When it came time to retire, Ida felt as if she were being punished instead of seeing it as a reward, says Lloyd’s uncle Murray. Nathan asked if he could sweep the street, and turned up at the store in Oceanside in a Cadillac and swept the parking lot, much to the surprise of workers who asked who he was.

At one point in the film, Lloyd asks his father Sol, who is now 88 and the only surviving child of Nathan, if he ever wanted him to go into the family business. Sol says he wanted him to have “a better life, a more interesting life.” Lloyd’s chosen career was cinematography and for the past 30 years he has been piecing together his family’s history.

“My grandfather died when I was 17. I knew him quite well,” the 57-year-old Brooklyn film-maker said in a previous interview with ATZ. His quest appears to have been propelled by the fact that Sol left the family business when Lloyd was 7. Growing up he’d only been to Coney Island a few times and he never worked at Nathan’s. “Why am I here? I guess I’m trying to recreate something of my grandfather,” he says into the camera, as a young man of 30, though he looks much younger, sitting in Nathan’s chair in his office. He has succeeded brilliantly.

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 8, 2014: Photo Album: Classic Chevrolets at Nathan’s Coney Island

March 6, 2014: Tribeca Film Fest to Premiere ‘Famous Nathan’ Doc by Grandson Lloyd Handwerker

March 24, 2013: “Notorious BOB” and Larell Marie Win Nathan’s Hot Dog Qualifier

January 19, 2010: Nathan Slept Here! Coney Island’s Feltman’s Kitchen Set for Demolition

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1957 Chevy Bel Air

1957 Chevy Bel Air in front of the Original Nathan’s, Coney Island. April 5, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On Saturday in Coney Island, two classic Chevrolets in front of the original Nathan’s Famous were the center of attention for tourists and locals alike. The 1957 Bel Air and the 1963 Impala were parked on Stillwell Avenue while their owners were inside ordering lunch.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Car show trophies won by 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air displayed in back seat. April 5, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The rolled down windows of the Bel Air afforded a glimpse of trophies from classic car shows and souvenirs. Tourists from France, Scotland and Manhattan took advantage of the photo op while we were there.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

1957 Chevy Bel Air in front of the Original Nathan’s, Coney Island. April 5, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The Bel Air was graced with a SATCHMO license plate, though a statue of Elvis Presley rested in the back seat. The Impala had a miniature version of itself in the back window…

1963 Chevy Impala

1963 Chevy Impala parked in front of Nathan’s. April 5, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Here’s another photo that shows both classic cars. One of our friends shot virtually the same photo in black and white, lending it the look of a photo taken back in the 1960s. The original Nathan’s opened at this location in 1916.

1963 Impala and 1957 Bel Air

1963 Impala and 1957 Bel Air in front of the Original Nathan’s, Coney Island. April 5, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 6, 2014: Tribeca Film Fest to Premiere ‘Famous Nathan’ Doc by Grandson Lloyd Handwerker

March 25, 2013: Photo of the Day: Palms on Palm Sunday in Coney Island

March 14, 2013: “Notorious BOB” and Larell Marie Win Nathan’s Hot Dog Qualifier

June 9, 2011: Photo of the Day: Mango Vendor in Coney Island

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Famous Nathan by Lloyd Handwerker

Famous Nathan directed and written by Lloyd Handwerker. Photo Mike Zwerling/courtesy Loquat Film

The long-awaited documentary about Nathan’s Famous by Lloyd Handwerker, grandson of the hot dog emporium’s founders Nathan and Ida Handwerker, is set to premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Famous Nathan is among the films in the festival’s Viewpoints Section, which was announced yesterday. A screening date for the film has not yet been announced. The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 16 through 27. (Update: The film will premiere on April 17, with additional screenings on April 21, 25 and 26. Tickets are available, beginning with Amex presale, starting April 8. Read ATZ’s review of the film here.)

“I’ve been working on it for almost 30 years, off and on,” the 57-year-old Brooklyn film-maker said in an interview this morning with ATZ. “My grandfather died when I was 17. I knew him quite well.” According to Lloyd’s research into his family’s history, “In 1912, Nathan, age 19, one of 13 brothers and sisters from a poor Jewish family, left Jaroslaw, Poland and arrived in New York City. He was unable to read, write or speak a word of English. By the 1930’s, he’d created one of the most loved places to eat anywhere in the world, in Coney Island, Brooklyn.”

Though Lloyd has never worked at Nathan’s, as a cinematographer he felt compelled to piece together his family’s history. His father Sol, who will be 89 in October, was first taken in to work in the kitchen as a young child, piling up rolls on a roll board and cutting frankfurters, according to one of our favorite interviews in the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive. The former Vice President of Nathan’s Famous, who is the only surviving child of Nathan and Ida, will attend the premiere with his wife Minnie.

People who worked at Nathan’s for decades, some for more than 40 years, also shared their memories with the film-maker. “There are elderly workers who are still alive and hopefully they’ll be able to get to the premiere,” said Lloyd. “I offer this personal, long-in-the-making film to my parents, grandparents, the Nathan’s workers and to lovers of our great city everywhere.”

Lloyd Handwerker

Lloyd Handwerker with Steeplechase Horse at the Coney Island History Project. Photo © Coney Island History Project

Famous Nathan
Directed and written by Lloyd Handwerker
(USA) – World Premiere, Documentary

Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, a New York City icon, has left a lasting imprint on the collective memory and palate of Coney Island. Director and grandson of ‘Famous’ Nathan himself, Lloyd Handwerker, takes a look back at the immigrant experience and almost 100 years of family and New York history in this personal documentary gem. Featuring a strong score, colorful and endearing characters, rare archival material, and a nuanced editing style, Famous Nathan will not disappoint New York history enthusiasts.

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 22, 2014: ATZ Review: ‘Famous Nathan,’ A Documentary by Lloyd Handwerker

February 23, 2014: Sunday Matinee: Under the Roller Coaster (2005)

October 21, 2013: Traveler: Osteria Ai Pioppi’s Homemade Amusement Rides

July 26, 2012: Film Trailer: Zipper, Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride

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