Historic Franchise Looking to Keep Century of Success Going With New Operators

Not many businesses reach the century mark, and even fewer reach that mark with an uninterrupted streak of success, but one well-known restaurant franchise has done just that, and is looking for new owners to help it with its next century of success.

Nathan’s Famous first opened on Coney Island, NY in 1916, and that flagship location is still proudly serving Nathan’s fans today. The Nathan’s franchise system has grown dramatically over the years, with over 250 restaurants across the US and all over the globe.

The success of the Nathan’s Famous brand is attributed to a number of factors, but most importantly its penchant for innovation, said James Walker, Senior Vice President, Restaurants at Nathan’s Famous.

“For a brand so rich in tradition and history, we think through innovation in technology, innovation in service, innovation in design and innovation in menu, we’re going to see the brand grow very quickly from coast to coast,” Walker said.

“I came to Nathan’s six months ago, and one of the reasons I accepted this position was I saw the fantastic opportunities with this brand. We are doing great things and it’s an evolution, not a revolution here at Nathan’s.”

One of those areas of evolution and innovation is in the menu itself. Nathan’s will always be known for their world famous all beef hot dogs and fresh crinkle cut fries. Those menu items will never change, and the hot dogs are made today with the same secret spice recipe as they were for the past 103 years. But the rest of the menu is being reengineered a bit.

One example of that menu innovation is the recent introduction of the Nathan’s New York Cheesesteak. Nathan’s partnered with New York meat purveyor, Pat LaFrieda, to develop a wildly popular sandwich with black angus ribeye steak, caramelized brown sugar balsamic onions, real American cheese and Pat LaFrieda’s butcher reserve steak sauce on a Balthazar baguette.

This newly developed sandwich is part of Nathan’s four menu pillars that include premium sandwiches, known as New York Heroes; fresh angus burgers cooked to order, known as New York’s Finest; various chicken items and, of course, their famous hot dogs and freshly cut crinkle cut fries.

“Nathan’s Famous, simply put, is the flavor of New York,” Walker noted. “Anyone who goes into a Nathan’s Famous anywhere in the world is getting to experience the very best of the New York casual food scene. We’re much more than just the world’s best hot dog.”

Walker, who came to Nathan’s with years of franchise restaurant experience, joined Nathan’s because he saw a huge opportunity for growth in a company that has been successfully operating for 103 consecutive years and still enjoys a lot of demand for its food.

In addition to evolving the Nathan’s menu, Walker and his team are in the process of rolling out new, contemporary restaurant designs, new menuboards, new crew uniforms, and much more.

“Here in the United States, the ability to grow is strong, and globally, as well,” he pointed out.


To help Nathan’s grow in the United States, the franchise is looking for people who are passionate about service and quality and who have a love for the brand. Walker said there is a preference for franchise candidates who have restaurant experience and the financial wherewithal to open a location.

Nathan’s currently has a range of restaurant formats, from 300 to 3,000 square feet. There is of course a concentration of Nathan’s restaurants in the New York tri-state area, and several up and down the Eastern seaboard. The menus and footprints are flexible, but today the brand is focusing on opening new locations that are larger with drive-throughs across the country.


Nathan’s has been franchising for decades, and the brand has an ongoing support system in place to help their operators. Once they’ve found a suitable candidate to open a franchise, that business owner will be invited to Discovery Day, and get a download of all things Nathan’s by the Executive team. Once approved, the new franchisee receives full training in New York, and assistance on everything from site selection and design, to ongoing field support and marketing.

Where it all began

Before Nathan’s Famous became the global franchise it is today, it started out as a single hot dog stand on Coney Island at the corner of Surf and Stillwell. Opened in 1916 by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker, where he sold his all beef hot dogs for a nickel.

From those humble beginnings, the brand has grown into a global franchise. Nathan’s Famous is an iconic, worldwide brand rich in heritage and tradition, and its poised to enjoy another century of innovation-driven success.

How did Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Start?

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is steeped in legend.

The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has been an American July Fourth tradition for generations.

According to archives, the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest was first held in Coney Island in 1916. James Mullen, an Irish immigrant, reportedly boasted that whoever could eat the most Nathan’s hot dogs was the most American. He competed against two other immigrants, downing 13 hot dogs and buns to win. Champion Joey Chestnut now holds the world record with 74 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is broadcast live on ESPN every July 4, and the fantastic event enjoys coverage on national and worldwide news and entertainment programs, print, online and radio. Over 40,000 people crowd the corner of Surf and Stillwell every year to watch the gustatory gladiators eat as many Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and buns as they can in 10 minutes.

On July 4 in 2018, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest reached a national audience of 28 billion, with a media value of over $2.5 billion.


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