Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

Stepping Back in Time at America’s Oldest Hot Dog Stand

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Bagging the Coneys to go at Fort Waynes (sic) Famous Coney Island restaurant.

Bagging the Coneys to go at Fort Waynes (sic) Famous Coney Island restaurant.

I was in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, because that was where the steam train excursion had ended. We had a few hours to kill before the train returned to Detroit so I went walking around to find some things to photograph.

That was how I happened upon Ft.Waynes (sic) Famous Coney Island restaurant.

Although it was a Sunday afternoon, the place was crowded because other passengers from the train had gone looking for a place to eat. The Three Rivers Festival also was going on downtown.

Founded in 1914, Coney Island claims to be the oldest hot dog stand in America.

The place is frozen in time. The restaurant’s website says that the ceiling has changed and the employees dress more casually now, but otherwise it looks much the same as it did in the 1930s.

It was curiosity as much as anything that prompted me to go inside and take a look.

There was a row of tables along one wall and a long counter along the other. Immediately on the left just inside the entrance was the food preparation area and cash register. All the tables were taken as were all of the seats at the counter.

This place was a period piece all right, so I reached into my camera bag for my camera and began making photographs.

Back in my childhood days in downstate Illinois, downtown was the place where people went to shop, socialize and eat. There were a couple of hamburger joints that were long and narrow, and it was a treat to eat lunch there.

And so it is with Ft.Waynes Famous Coney Island.

I saw little retail during my stroll around downtown Fort Wayne and few businesses of any kind that were open. Much to my disappointment, even the newsstand was closed.

But Coney Island was open and doing a brisk business. Its website says business is good enough to remain open until 8 p.m. on Sundays, 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Stepping into the Coney Island is like stepping back in time—maybe not all the way to 1914, when it opened, but back to the days when going out for a couple of hot dogs was considered a real treat,” wrote Cindy Larson in the historical sketch on the restaurant’s website.

The sketch spoke about how in contemporary times Fort Wayne residents still come downtown during the Christmas season to look at lights and stop in at Coney Island for a bite to eat. Such traditions have kept Coney Island alive when so many other downtown eateries have folded due to lack of business.

I had not intended to order anything at Coney Island but the pull of nostalgia and the sight of those Coneys was too much to resist.

I got a couple of Coneys to go and ate them while sitting on a bench on the grounds of the Allen County Courthouse.

How many generations of lawyers, judges and others had engaged in the same ritual over the years?

The Coneys were good and I regret that I won’t be back in Fort Wayne anytime soon to enjoy another Coney.

Slatering on the chilli sauce . . .

Slatering on the chilli sauce . . .

 . . . and putting on the onions.

. . . and putting on the onions.

Long and narrow like the downtown eateries I remembered eating lunch at when I was a child.

Long and narrow like the downtown eateries I remembered eating lunch at when I was a child.

Ketchup and mustard stand ready to be applied in the food preparation area. The sight of hot dogs on the grill by the front window has, not doubt, drawn in many customers over the years.

Ketchup and mustard stand ready to be applied in the food preparation area. The sight of hot dogs on the grill by the front window has, not doubt, drawn in many customers over the years.

fwa-coney-island-sign-x

 

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