A Veteran-Owned Business Brings New Life into the Original Coney Island Hot Dog

(Feltman's of Coney Island)

New York's Coney Island is so culturally linked with hot dogs that the word "Coney" is synonymous with the food in many parts of the country.

This is because the hot dog, as we know it, was invented on the beach at Coney Island. We may not remember the name of the man who invented them or his original hot dog brand, but two Army veterans and brothers, Joe and Michael Quinn, are out to change that.

Michael and Joe Quinn. (Feltman's of Coney Island)

"My brothers and I grew up in the Coney Island area," Joe Quinn tells Military.com. "Spending summers at Coney island, our grandfather would always tell us about the great Charles Feltman. He'd tell us the story of Charles Feltman and how he invented the hot dog, right where we were standing. He had a small pie cart, and he turned the pie cart into his first hot dog park."

In 1869, German-born immigrant Charles Feltman was a pushcart food salesman on Coney Island beaches. After a couple of years selling pies to pleasure seekers on the beaches, he decided to offer them something from his home country: a frankfurter.

Instead of serving it on a plate with potato salad, however, he put it in a roll for easy carry and consumption. He called it a Coney Island Red Hot, but the rest of the world would come to know it as the hot dog.

Feltman died in 1910, but Feltman's Hot Dogs was carried on by his sons. The business was soon selling enough food that his sons upgraded it from a pushcart to an eatery. By the 1920s, Feltman's Hot Dogs was a restaurant and beer garden, complete with a carousel.

"'They sold like hot cakes,' my grandpa used to say," says Quinn. "He turned that pie cart into the largest restaurant in Coney Island. It was like a kind of Italy on the beach, just 18 grilling stations for shore dinners and entertainment."

But like all good things, even Feltman's Hot Dogs came to an end. In 1954, the restaurant closed after being sold and resold. Local residents like the Quinns' grandfather never forgot the days of their youth spent with Feltman and his creation on Coney Island.

The original Feltman's Coney Island Restaurant. (Boston Public Library)

The Quinn brothers were inspired by their grandfather's stories about Coney Island, even though it had become a bit rundown by the time they grew up in the area. Their lifelong dream was to reopen Feltman's Hot Dogs and revive the brand. They had a plan in place.

Oldest brother Michael went into the food industry, while Joe (the youngest) went off to West Point for a career in the Army. Middle brother Jimmy went to work in finance at Cantor Fitzgerald, with the idea of making some money and starting up a business.

"That was Jimmy's goal," Quinn says. "To go to Wall Street, make a whole bunch of money and then use that money to fund the business. My brothers were just infatuated with the story of Feltman's."

But the dream was cut short. While Joe was a senior at the U.S. Military Academy, Jimmy was killed while working at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.

After two tours in Iraq, Joe Quinn left the Army in 2015. The two surviving brothers renewed their determination to honor Jimmy Quinn's wishes. Today, with a headquarters in Brooklyn, Feltman's Hot Dogs can be found in 1,200 stores, from Publix to Whole Foods.

It's also the first-ever official hot dog of West Point Athletics.

"To go to Michie Stadium, see the logo I created, see people eating the hot dogs and talking about it, it's just a surreal sort of situation," says Quinn. "No one even heard of Charles Feltman or heard of Feltman's Coney Island, and to resurrect that, it's just incredible. To me, it's taking that history, infusing it with meaning and doing it in memory of our brother."

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