That is, until about three years ago, when 41-year-old Coney Island Tours founder Michael Quinn and his brother made the decision to revive the Feltman’s brand. The Quinns, who were raised in nearby Sheepshead Bay, have a strong nostalgia tied to the original hot dog joint. Their grandfather, who worked as a truck driver and food supplier back in the 1930s “was a big fan,” according to Michael. “I remember him taking me for breakfast on Fort Hamilton Parkway and pointing [to where Feltman is buried] in Greenwood Cemetery like, ‘See that guy over there? That’s the guy who invented the hot dog.’”
Quinn had been studying Feltman’s recipes and spice blends since opening his touring business back in 2007. Gleaning some info from his grandfather (he knew that the franks were last produced in 1954 in the Bronx, and were made in an “old world, German-style way,” among other facts), the tour guide did his research. (He won’t say any more to ensure the recipe stays under wraps.)
“I told [my brother], ‘I know exactly how to make those hot dogs,’” he recalls. The duo quickly started producing Feltman’s Red Hots (they claim to use the exact same recipe as the original), bought the rights to the name, and held pop-up hot dog shops -- including a weekly summer rotation at Sycamore in Ditmas Park and the William Barnacle Tavern in the East Village -- in 2015 and 2016. Last March, Quinn started a crowdfunding campaign to get the packaged Feltman’s dogs into restaurants and, ultimately, to bring them back to Surf Avenue. Though he was only able to raise $1,500 (just a fraction of his goal), the online business was growing so steadily that it quickly deemed the crowdfunding unnecessary.
For Quinn, bringing Feltman’s back means restoring a part of Brooklyn’s past. “It’s a part of [the borough’s] history that’s lost,” Quinn says. “You know, we’re losing so much of our history with high-rises being built and landmarks [being torn down]. Something like this is very important to me.”
The new Feltman’s -- located at the shop’s original location at 1000 Surf Avenue -- is operating under a licensing agreement with Luna Park, Coney Island’s current amusement park, which replaced Astroland in 2010. “We wanted to make it part of the park instead of a separate entity, because that’s really what Feltman’s was,” Quinn says. On top of new offerings like fries, chicken fingers, and pizza, it's serving the original Feltman’s dog with onions, sauerkraut, and a spicy German mustard that Quinn often mixes up himself, as well as his own creation, the Al Capone, a hot dog topped with Michael’s of Brooklyn vodka sauce and freshly grated parmesan.
While the new space looks a little more modern than the original, old postcards and photos on every wall serve as a reminder of the restaurant’s deep-rooted history. As for Nathan’s (which still operates from its original home a few blocks away), Quinn isn’t worried. “Wahlburgers [on nearby Stillwell Ave] also has an incredible hot dog that may rival ours,” he says, but “this is the holy land of the hot dog -- this is where the hot dog was invented.”
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