Nathan’s Famous: The First 100 Years of Amer­i­ca’s Favorite Frank­furter Company

William Handw­erk­er with Jayne Pearl
  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

One might clas­si­fy William Handwerker’s Nathan’s Famous in numer­ous ways. It is at once a paean to the Handw­erk­er fam­i­ly, begin­ning with Nathan who immi­grat­ed to Brook­lyn at the dawn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and found­ed what has become an icon­ic inter­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tion; a social his­to­ry of Jew­ish immi­grants from East­ern Europe and their assim­i­la­tion into New York City and its sub­urbs; an insight­ful explo­ration of food ser­vice and the restau­rant busi­ness; and a primer to grow­ing a busi­ness from a one-man ven­ture into an inter­na­tion­al enterprise.

Most read­ers will be famil­iar with Nathan’s Famous as the deli­cious hot dog asso­ci­at­ed pri­mar­i­ly with Coney Island, its birth­place. What few read­ers will be aware of, how­ev­er, is the enor­mous amount of thought, skill, and plan­ning involved in the hot dog’s pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion, the bak­ing of the roll on which it is served, and the cook­ing of the fries that often accom­pa­ny it — all before one can actu­al­ly buy a hot dog in a desir­able loca­tion for a rea­son­able price. Handw­erk­er intro­duces the read­er to the chal­lenges his fam­i­ly encoun­tered and describes how his grand­fa­ther, father, and oth­er rel­a­tives pitched in to solve them. Along the way, he also dis­cuss­es the pros and cons of oper­at­ing a fam­i­ly busi­ness and how this may impact rela­tion­ships between par­ents and chil­dren and among siblings.

As the Nathan’s Famous enter­prise grew, so did its prob­lems. Handw­erk­er takes the read­er through the ago­niz­ing times when the entire busi­ness was on the verge of fail­ing, and he shares some of the dif­fi­cul­ties the fam­i­ly faced in decid­ing on loca­tions, obtain­ing financ­ing, going pub­lic,” and then pri­va­tiz­ing once again. He dis­cuss­es their fran­chis­ing and licens­ing pro­grams, and what it was like for the own­ers of a rel­a­tive­ly small fam­i­ly-owned busi­ness to find them­selves nego­ti­at­ing with major inter­na­tion­al corporations.

Pos­si­bly because of the skill of Jayne Pearl, the book reads as though William’s grand­fa­ther, Nathan, or father, Mur­ray, were sit­ting in an arm­chair across from the read­er and rem­i­nisc­ing about his life and career. This feel­ing is enhanced by the Frank lessons” shared with the read­er at the end of most chap­ters. Here are three of many examples:

(1) Be aware of trends in your indus­try as well as the areas in which you oper­ate, so you can adjust the course, take advan­tage of new oppor­tu­ni­ties or decide when it’s time to cut your losses.”

(2) You can’t win em all. Do your best to play to your strengths and remain focused on your ulti­mate goals.” 

(3) Always be hon­est and forth­com­ing with your busi­ness part­ners. It is these rela­tion­ships that sup­port your business.”

Final­ly, one of the most charm­ing aspects of this high­ly read­able book is the many pho­tographs that intro­duce the read­er to peo­ple and places men­tioned in the text. 

Relat­ed Content:

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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