How Coney Island Hot Dogs Became Detroit’s Signature Dish

08.03.12 David Lumb

Legend tells of Greek and Macedonian immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and Coney Island in the 1920s on the way to Detroit, familiarizing themselves with the hot dog as an easy product to make and sell without needing a strong command of English. Two brothers–William “Bill” and Constantine “Gust” Keros–opened American Coney Island in downtown Detroit in 1919 just as the geared-up auto industry flooded the city with workers needing a bite to go. The duo had a falling out in 1936 and Bill opened up Lafayette Coney Island next door–a rivalry that has kept folks fired up to this day over which is the superior dog. The regional hot dog’s story is told in Coney Detroit by Katherine Yung and Joe Grimm, which isn’t so much a coffee table curiosity as it is a love letter to the strange journey the simple meal took immigrating into the hearts of Midwesterners.

A Detroit Coney (as they’re known) is different than the NY classic: bean-less chili accompanies mustard and onions, and the dog itself has a particular casing that “snaps” with each bite–but it’s really the chili, either made from scratch or National-brand, that makes a Coney.

(Photo: stevendepolo/Flickr)