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Hot dogs and potato chips are long-time staples at George’s Coney Island in Worcester. What you won’t see on the Southbridge Street restaurant’s menu is the “can’t be missed” huge serving of nostalgia that dates back 100 years. From the 60-foot neon sign that has adorned the landmark restaurant since the 1940s to the wooden booths complete with name carvings, the eatery has been an integral, mainly unchanged, part of downtown Worcester and people’s hearts.
Kathryn Tsandikos, the granddaughter of founders George and Catherine Tsagarelis, is the third generation to oversee the hot dog hotspot. Tsandikos said customers routinely share their memories of dining in the restaurant as children. “They [customers] come in and say, ‘I used to come in with my grandmother,’ or ‘I met on a date here,’ or ‘I used to come in with my dad and I sat in that booth.’”
It’s the memories and significance that Coney Island has had for so many people that prompted Tsandikos to create a book in conjunction with the restaurant turning 100. While the initial concept for the book was to be a historical view of the iconic hot dog joint and downtown Worcester, it will also include comments and stories from patrons. “I think it’s really important, before a lot of the original customers aren’t around anymore, that we get a sense of what Worcester and Coney Island was like in the ’30s and ’40s,” said Tsandikos.
One such shared memory Tsandikos recalled is of a woman who stopped in with her three small children. She got to chatting with the customer, who mentioned that the day marked the anniversary of her own mother’s passing. Coney Island, being one of her mother’s favorite places to eat, she wanted to come in that night to enjoy hot dogs for dinner. Stories like this are common.
“It boggles my mind the stories that people have shared that Coney Island has had such an impact on their lives,” Tsandikos said. “Those stories are so remarkable, and I feel so touched and in awe of the place that we have in peoples’ lives. It makes me nervous because I hope that comes across in the book.”
Coney Island isn’t a multigenerational experience for just the customers; the tradition runs deep for Tsandikos, too. While many people have fond memories of spending time with their grandparents at their home, Tsandikos recalls spending many weekends and afternoons with her grandparents learning the ropes of operating a busy restaurant that evokes “the warm feeling of family.” During that time, Tsandikos learned how to treat people from her grandmother. “She remembered people, how they ate their hot dogs, about their families.”
Over the years, there were many hours spent in the restaurant with her father, too. The legacy doesn’t stop there. Tsandikos said her own children spent a good chunk of their time at Coney Island, as well.
The key to the restaurant’s longevity has been simple: keeping things the same. “My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever change this place,’” Tsandikos said.”People come in and it looks the same as it did back in the ’30s.”
What does the future hold for Coney Island? As one may guess, not a lot of change. “There haven’t been a lot of changes in the previous 100 years, and I don’t plan on making any,” said Tsandikos. “I plan on being around for a long, long time.”
The book is slated for publication in early 2018. At the writing of this article, an exact date wasn’t available.
For more information, visit coneyislandlunch.com.
Photography by Demet Senturk