Monday, January 05, 2009

Nathan's Famous. Ida, Not So Much.

You may have eaten Nathan's Famous hot dogs. The 'Nathan' in the name was the founder of the firm, Nathan Handwerker, a young Polish immigrant who began selling hot dogs in 1916 (or perhaps 1913) in Coney Island, New York. The rest is history, or so one might think. From the Nathan's Famous website:

Politicians, show-business personalities, and sports celebrities are often seen and photographed munching Nathan's dogs, and heard singing its praises. Barbra Streisand, actually had Nathan's hot dogs delivered to London, England for a private party. A trip to Nathan's was the focus of a Seinfeld episode created by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. More recently, the ex-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani declared Nathan's the "World's best hot dog." Shortly after that, Nathan Handwerker was named to the city's top 100- joining the ranks of Joe Namath, Irving Berlin, Andrew Carnegie, Joe DiMaggio and others. Even Jacqueline Kennedy loved Nathan's dogs, and served them at the White House. In his final last will and testament, actor Walter Mathau requested Nathan's hot dogs to be served at his funeral – they were! The point is Nathan's is not just a hot dog, it has history and it is Americana!

Last year there were over 360 million Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs sold! Today, Nathan's is sold and enjoyed in all 50 States and sold at over 20,000 food service and retail outlets.

I have a paper place mat from Nathan's. Here's what the place mat says:

That summer, at Feltman's German Beer Garden - the very first frankfurter restaurant - two young Polish immigrants named Nathan Handwerker and Ida Greenwald first met. Ida was a waitress, and Nathan was a roll slicer. Well, one night Ida caught Nathan's eye and it turned out to be a match in, well, hot dog heaven.

They soon married and in 1916, on the advice of two singing waiters named Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, they plunked down their entire $300 life savings on their very own frankfurter stand.

Note the presence of Ida Greenwald in this story. She is mentioned on the Nathan's Famous website, too:

Nathan's Famous was founded by a Polish immigrant, Nathan Handwerker, and his is truly an authentic "only in America story." He started his business in 1916 with a small hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York. He sold hot dogs that were manufactured based on a recipe developed by his wife, Ida.

The place mat elaborates:

Ida provided Nathan her grandmother's secret recipe and Nathan added good old fashioned American value, selling the country's newest favorite food for just a nickel - half the price of the competition.

It is hard not to see this story as the way women are often written out of history, not necessarily from some vile motives but just because women in general are invisible. That Nathan Handwerker was named to New York City's top 100 is deserved. But was Ida Greenwald also named so? The hot dog recipe, after all, was not Nathan's but Ida's. Or Ida's grandmother's.