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Lobster roll Paul's Daughter

Lobster rolls are new on the menu at Paul’s Daughter. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Lobster roll aficionados are advised to run right over to Paul’s Daughter in Coney Island to try the newest addition to their menu — and currently available weekends only– delectable chunks of Maine lobster packed into a toasted bun. ATZ tasted one of the Boardwalk eatery’s much-anticipated lobster rolls on Saturday, having been given a heads up by store owner Tina Georgoulakos. Tina and her family have been working on the recipe for months. The delicate sauce has a secret ingredient that enhances the naturally sweet and succulent taste of the lobster. If the store’s beloved Mama Burger figure doesn’t get her lost burger back, maybe she could hold a lobster roll instead?

Paul's Daughter

Bartender and counterman at the lobster bar at Paul’s Daughter on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Tina’s father Paul Georgoulakos aka “The Chief” co-founded the restaurant formerly known as Gregory & Paul’s in 1962 and still supervises its clam bar. The renovated building, which was originally one of hot dog inventor Charles Feltman‘s restaurants, remains a masterpiece of vernacular signage. Among our favorites signs are the counterman’s cry “Hey! Get It Get It!” and the dapper Mr. Shrimp.

While Papa Burger, an A & W Root Beer figure from the 1960s, still anchors the Luna Park side of the building’s rooftop, Mama Burger remains flat on her back since Superstorm Sandy. The eight-foot-tall fiberglass figure got knocked over — at first she was thought to be missing– and her hamburger and Brooklyn Brewery mug blew away.

Paul Georgoulakos Mama Burger

Behind the Bar at Paul’s Daughter: Poster of Paul in His Store in 1954 and Mama Burger T-Shirt by Brooklyn Brewery. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The Brewery has come up with a T-shirt to pay tribute to Mama Burger and raise funds toward her restoration. “They have a real love for Mama Burger,” says Tina, who recalls how one day her father took a Brooklyn Brewery sign and stuck it on the figure’s beer mug. “I have to find people who can restore her.” Back in 2011, when Paul’s Daughter lost their lease –the store has since signed an 8-year deal to stay put–ATZ wrote about Mama and Papa Burger, which have been part of Coney’s skyline since the 1970s and are considered rare examples of roadside Americana.

What else is new this season at Paul’s Daughter? In the next couple of weeks, LEDs will outline the top part of the building, says Tina. “We’re getting blue LEDs that look like neon.”

Paul's Daughter on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Paul’s Daughter on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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April 12, 2013: Photo of the Day: Clams on the Half Shell in Coney Island

October 31, 2012: Missing in Storm: Have You Seen Coney’s Mama Burger?

July 17, 2012: 50 Years on Coney Island Boardwalk for Paul & His Daughter

May 22, 2012: Photo Album: Welcome Back, Paul’s Daughter & Ruby’s Bar!

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Vintage Sign inside Denny’s Ice Cream, Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2012 ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012). With a slew of chains and franchisees coming to the new, year-round Coney Island, the answer is yes, but two new Mom & Pops — Lunatics Ice Cream and Luna Park Cafe– are under construction and racing to open for business in May.

On the south side of Surf Avenue next to Popeye’s, the former Island Grocery is being transformed into a new walk-in shop called Lunatics Ice Cream. Dennis Corines, whose Denny’s Ice Cream operated on Surf from 1968 until he sold it to Coney Island USA and it was destroyed by Sandy, is a consultant to the owners. They’ll be bringing back his vanilla, chocolate and banana pistachio soft serve as well as cotton candy, popcorn, jelly apples and funnel cake. The projected opening date is May 15.

Coney Island Post-Sandy

Coney Island Post-Sandy: Interior Demolition of Storm-Ravaged Denny’s Ice Cream, Surf Avenue. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On the north side of Surf Avenue across from the Cyclone roller coaster, a new Mom & Pop eatery is under construction in one of the former furniture stores. Set to open as early as May 1st, the 2,400 square foot space is divided into three sections: pizzeria, frozen yogurt counter, and a cafe serving burgers and sandwiches. Co-owner Mike Kukaj tells ATZ that the name of the restaurant will be Luna Park Cafe.

Luna Park Cafe

Luna Park Cafe: New Cafe Under Construction on North Side of Surf Avenue. April 23, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

The original Luna Park (1903-1944) was on the north side of Surf Avenue, where Luna Park Houses and Luna Park Furniture are now. Until the early 1980′s the north side was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. Philips Candy Store, now located in Staten Island, was the anchor of Stillwell Terminal from 1930 until 2000 when the terminal was rebuilt and they had to move out.

By the time the last ride– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell —closed in 2005, the north side was known as the wrong side of Surf Avenue to locate a business because of the lack of foot traffic. Now it is home to Coney Island Bar & Grill, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria and Applebee’s, which has plans to open a sidewalk cafe.

Under Construction Surf Avenue

New Mom & Pop Business Under Construction on North Side of Surf Avenue, Its name will be “Luna Park Cafe.” April 23, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the new chains and franchisees expected to open this year in Coney Island are Johnny Rockets, currently under construction on the north side of Surf, as well as Burger-Fi, Subway Cafe and Red Mango. Along with Applebee’s, It’Sugar and Rita’s Italian Ice are already open on Surf Avenue, and there are a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and Subway in Stillwell Terminal.

Johnny Rockets

Building for Johnny Rockets Under Construction on Surf Avenue, Coney Island. April 21, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

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January 3, 2014: New Year, New Franchise: Rita’s Italian Ice Coming to Coney Island

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Steve Bitetzakis

Steve Bitetzakis in front of his restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk. November 6, 2010. Photo © Jim Kiernan via jamienyc/flickr

Coney Island lost one of its own last night. Steve Bitetzakis, 54, the owner of Steve’s Grill House located on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 until 2011, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Decorative flags, flowerpots, hand-painted signage and ample seating gave Steve’s Grill House a homey ambiance. Friends remembered him as a nice guy who knew all of his customers and would help out people who were hungry. “He’d say, you can pay me when you have the money, but I’m sure they never did,” said retired arcade operator Stanley Fox. “But he was that kind of guy.”

Door of the Grill House. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Handpainted Sign on Door of the Grill House. August 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

The restaurateur was the last hold out of the “Coney Island 8″ evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla. In February 2012, he called off plans to have his modular building moved down Stillwell and instead took a buyout. Steve invested in a state-of-the-art concession trailer which opened for Easter of last year on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival.

Unfortunately, he lost his location to Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis and had to move to another lot leased by the festival where he was not able to open for business. The BK Festival’s plan for satellite locations on Surf Avenue called for opening the fencing during business hours but it turned out that city regulations did not permit it. Steve’s shuttered trailer remained parked on the Surf Avenue lot until a few weeks ago when all of the vehicles on the lot were towed away to a City pound.

Steve's Grill House

Steve's New Grill House concession trailer at the BK Festival on Stillwell Avenue. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It was sad to see Steve’s Grill House leave Coney Island since we knew he was ill and his restaurant was not likely to be coming back. There was no spot for him to lease in the new Coney Island, even though there are still empty lots.

Steve’s family has a long history of operating food concessions in Coney Island. His father Gregory Bitetzakis was the co-owner of Gregory & Paul’s, which opened more than 50 years ago. After Gregory retired in 2009, the restaurant changed its name to Paul’s Daughter. Steve first got sand in his shoes working for his father in the G & P’s on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone. “He wanted to be in Coney Island more than anything,” said an old friend.

A wake will be held at the Dahill Funeral Home, 2525 65th Street, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 21st from 5 until 9 pm.

Grill House coney Island Boardwalk

Steve’s Grill House, Coney Island Boardwalk. Last day of season, Oct 31, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Dreamland Bell at Grimaldi's

1885 Bell from Iron Pier at Dreamland Park on Display at Grimaldi’s Coney Island. Mary 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Grimaldi’s in Coney Island, which renovated and reopened on April 30 after being flooded by Superstorm Sandy, is now offering a slice of Coney Island history along with their pizza pies. The “Dreamland Bell” that survived the Dreamland Fire of 1911 was put on display yesterday at the pizza restaurant, where it is a powerful symbol of Coney’s comeback from Sandy. The Bell can be seen through the open storefront by pedestrians walking on the north side of Surf Avenue. It is expected to be on display at the popular pizza restaurant for two to three weeks the summer, store owner Joe Silvestri told ATZ. (Fall Update: The Bell is there through September 27, 2013 and will return in April 2014.)

The 1885 bronze bell cast by James Gregory once welcomed steamship passengers arriving at the New Iron Pier to visit Coney Island’s Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. After a 20 year quest, Coney Island diver Gene Ritter found the Bell twenty-five feet underwater, about one hundred yards offshore. On September 3, 2009, nearly a century after the fire that destroyed Dreamland and the Pier, the bell was raised from the ocean floor and a day later was put on exhibit at the Coney Island History Project.

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. The Only All Water Route to Coney Island.  Photo by Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. “The Only All Water Route” to Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

“The reason we’re doing it now at Grimaldi’s is because of the devastation of Sandy,” Ritter told ATZ. “We’re trying to help them out.” The fact that the restaurant is decorated with poster-size photos of Coney Island’s historic Dreamland Park and Luna Park “makes it a natural,” Ritter added. Later this week, Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will install a plaque with the history of the Dreamland Bell and archival photos.

When the Dreamland Bell made its debut at the History Project on Labor Day Weekend in 2009, joy and optimism about the future of Coney Island was reflected in the faces of many friends and acquaintances who made a special trip to see the Bell and ring it. The discovery of the Bell symbolized and presaged the rebirth of Coney Island because it marked the return of something that was thought to have been irrevocably destroyed. No one expected the return of an artifact lost nearly one hundred years ago in a fire, and certainly not such an important artifact as the Dreamland Bell. It’s fitting that the Bell has been brought back to ring in Coney Island’s comeback from the destruction of Sandy.

Grimaldi’s, 1215 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224

Gene Ritter Dreamand Bell

Gene Ritter with Russell of Grimaldi’s in front of photo of Dreamland Tower at Grimaldi’s Surf Avenue restaurant. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Grimaldi's Pizza

Grimaldi’s Pizza Take-Out Order, Coney Island. July 14, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Renovations are underway at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which expects to re-open its Sandy-damaged restaurant on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue in two weeks. “May 1st is my birthday,” Grimaldi’s operator Joe Silvestri told ATZ. “We’ll be open for my birthday.” Their pizza was a favorite of workers in the amusement area. One of our very first takeout pies is pictured above.

The Coney Island outpost of the famed Brooklyn Bridge pizzeria had been open only four months old when Superstorm Sandy struck. The restaurant’s metal gate gave way to Sandy and the interior of the pizzeria was wrecked by the wind and flood waters. The cobwebs in Jim McDonnell’s photo were part of the Halloween decor and look genuinely eerie. We dined at Grimaldi’s just two days before Sandy and can’t wait to welcome them back.

UPDATE April 30, 2013

Grimaldi’s reopened today! The pizzeria is currently hiring a pizza chef, waiters, kitchen help and bartender. They’re expecting their beer and liquor license to come through. Updates soon!

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath in Coney Island

Surf Avenue, Coney Island: Interior of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. October 30, 2012. Photo © Jim McDonnell

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Cha Cha's

Cha Cha’s Surf Avenue Bar and Grill, Coney Island. April 2012

Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, which relocated to Surf Avenue last spring after losing their lease on the Boardwalk, is closing for good. The announcement was made last night via the bar and restaurant’s Facebook and twitter:

Reactions from fans and followers ranged from “NOOOO!” and “I’ll miss those gogo times we had!!” to “Thanks for the good times over the years.”

As recently as January, the plan was to fix the place up after flood damage from Sandy and make a go of it. “OK! we had our meeting and the game plan is being set in motion to rebuild and open the old Cha Chas space on Surf Ave by spring. As info comes in we’ll keep everyone informed with the new and improved space on Surf Ave.”

Yesterday’s announcement did not give a reason for the closing. Given the challenges faced by businesses in their rebuilding efforts, we’d have to guess that Sandy is responsible for shuttering this Coney Island mainstay, which had survived the death of its manager “JT” and eviction by Zamperla. Cha Cha’s former Boardwalk location was the site of the original Club Atlantis and is now Tom’s Restaurant.

Cha Cha's Coney Island

Coney Island After Sandy: Cleanup at Cha Cha’s Surf Avenue, November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia also owns Cha Cha’s In Bocca Al Lupo in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Last season, in addition to relocating his Coney Island bar to Surf Avenue, he put his name on Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park on Thor’s Stillwell Avenue property. The park had carnival rides as well as an al fresco bar. Will Cha Cha’s name turn up in another location in Coney Island? That depends whether he still has sand in his shoes after Sandy. We’re not saying goodbye to Coney Island’s “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys” and “Live Entertainment for the Hole Family” just yet.

Cha Cha's

Cha Cha’s Bar & Cafe on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Surf Avenue

Surf Avenue Panoramic, North side of Surf, Mermaid Parade 2008. Photo © Whiskeygonebad/Anthony Catalano via flickr

Coney Island, the birthplace of the hot dog and the enclosed amusement park is famous for its quirky authenticity, but it’s about to look and taste more like Anyplace USA. Three national franchises– Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets and Red Mango–have signed leases for the north side of Surf Avenue.

Broker Joe Vitacco tells ATZ, “We rented 8,000 square feet to the Johnny Rockets franchisee. He will use 6,000 square feet for the Johnny Rockets and the remaining 2,000 square feet for another national franchise, Red Mango.” The building next door, 1217, will be built out to the lot-line on Surf for Applebee’s, he said. The restaurants will activate long vacant properties next to Stillwell Terminal, which already has a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and a Subway and is getting a Checkers hamburger chain. Is the north side of Surf Avenue destined to become a mecca for franchises?

Lot at 1223 Surf Avenue next to Stillwell Terminal and 1217 Surf Avenue. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Red Mango is a frozen yogurt franchise started “many, many spoons ago” (in 2007) in Los Angeles that now has 190 locations nationwide. According to a company press release, it is one of the fastest growing retailers of all-natural nonfat frozen yogurt and fresh fruit smoothies. Johnny Rockets touts itself as “The Original Hamburger” though it was founded in 1986, also in L.A. According to their corporate website the chain has “about 300 corporate and franchise-owned restaurants in 30 states and 16 countries, including 30 Six Flags amusement park locations and 11 Royal Caribbean cruise ships.” In the New York area, the store can be found at 56th Street, South Street Seaport and Yankee Stadium and in Glendale and Forest Hills in Queens, as well as in New Jersey at Newport Centre Mall and in Hoboken. Applebee’s has almost 2,000 locations nationwide and the franchisee already owns 40 restaurants in the New York area.

For the record, the franchisees’ leases are with the individual property owners of 1217 and 1223 Surf Avenue and NOT with Thor Equities. Thor CEO Joe Sitt does not own any property on the north side of Surf east of Stillwell Avenue. Thor’s holdings are on the south side of Surf. The news about Johnny Rockets and Applebee’s has long been rumored because franchisees had first looked into renting Thor Equities vacant new building at Surf and Stillwell, where prices are said to be sky high. Rents on the north side of Surf are about a third as much as Thor’s properties on the south side, a source tells ATZ, with a space on the north side renting for $75,000 and a comparable one in Thor’s building with an asking price of $250,000.

Across the street is Nathan’s, which got its start in Coney Island in 1916 and whose original location is a year-round tourist destination. “In total, Nathan’s products are marketed for sale in over 40,000 locations,” according to the company’s website. Also on the south side of Surf Avenue is Popeye’s Chicken, which is popular with locals and whose franchisee owner has been in business year-round in Coney Island for nearly thirty years.

Nathan's Coney Island

Coney Island Post-Sandy: The original Nathan’s at Surf and Stillwell is Closed Till Spring. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Vitacco has been actively marketing properties in Coney Island to potential franchisees and independent restaurateurs alike, as well as to other businesses, for many years. It has been a tough sell, with 14 months of red tape at 1223 Surf, which is owned by Fox 18 Realty, LLC, due to the property being adjacent to the MTA. Hooters, Outback Steak House and a seafood restaurant are on his get list. “What would you like to see?” he asked when we said we weren’t a fan of franchises.

How about a club with a wave-riding machine? Turns out Body Glove Swimwear had come to him with an idea for a cafe, retail and surf machine, but nothing ever came of it. In addition to an all-season surfing venue, ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island includes a pinball arcade museum, Fascination, frozen custard and a Mangels Whip ride. “The reason it is better to have franchisees is the franchise company has to approve the area, location and lease,” says Vitacco, who believes that Coney Island is a fantastic location. “They have done all of their homework and are experts at analyzing a location.”

While some of our Coney Island friends approve of any new business coming to vacant land and the jobs that it will create, others are critical: “At least Johnny Rockets sort of fits the vibe. But who needs a fake diner when there’s a real one?! (Tom’s),” says Coney Island regular and writer Tara Cox. “In my personal vision for Coney, they should give small, unique business owners the chance to thrive and keep the spirit alive. The whole area will benefit. And what a novelty it would be — a land where there’s only small, interesting and personal businesses.”

Sky Rapids Ride

Sky Rapids Ride at 1223 Surf Avenue and Arcade at 1217 Surf Ave. Coney Island. January 1, 1979. Photo by Abe Feinstein via Coney Island History Project

Until the early 1980’s the north side of Surf Avenue was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. Philips Candy Store, now located in Staten Island, was the anchor of Stillwell Terminal from 1930 until 2000 when the terminal was rebuilt and they had to move out. By the time the last ride– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell —closed in 2005, the north side was known as the wrong side of Surf Avenue to locate a business because of the lack of foot traffic. It was mostly furniture stores named after amusement parks. Rides aren’t about to make a comeback due to the high rent, but things began looking up last summer with the opening of the popular Grimaldi’s Pizzeria on the north side of Surf.

Some kind of formula business restriction such as the one in San Francisco, which bans chains in some neighborhoods and regulates them almost everywhere else, would create opportunities for small, independent businesses and prevent Surf Avenue from becoming a strip of franchises. During the hearings leading up to the July 2009 rezoning, a number of individuals and organizations including the Pratt Center for Community Development recommended adopting a formula business restriction policy within Coney East to prevent national retailers and fast food restaurants from locating there. Of course that didn’t happen because the zoning was written to attract these very businesses to Coney Island.

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February 13, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

December 24, 2012: In Thor’s Coney Island, Discount on Retail Ride of a Lifetime

August 10, 2012: Steeplechase Plaza Under Construction in Coney Island

June 23, 2012: Opening Today: Coney Island Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

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