Our Little Town 

Early History of Nathan's in Oceanside
An Exclusive Interview with Murray (son of Nathan) Handwerker

By Howard B. Levy

   

On February 1, 2004, I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of chatting with  82-year old Murray Handwerker and his wife, Dorothy. The son of Nathan Handwerker (founder in 1916 of Nathan's Famous in Coney Island), Murray was the visionary who, with Dorothy, took over ownership and operation the then closed Roadside Rest in late 1956 and brought back its success and its glory and fame to our little town.  In 1959, that glory and fame was enhanced exponentially when the Roadside Rest took on the Nathan's name.

   
As discussed in detail elsewhere on this site, until mid-1942, the Roadside Rest was a place of great popularity and renown that had fallen on bad times during and after World War II. According to Murray, it was so rundown that it was closed for the summer of 1956 and put up for sale by its debt-ridden owner. But meanwhile, a building boom had caused the population of suburban Long Island towns to begin grow rapidly after the war, and in Oceanside, it exploded in 1955. Murray saw opportunity.

Below are some selected excerpts of my 2004 conversation with the Handwerkers:

HL:

So I have some questions I would like to ask you if you don't mind.

MH:

Oh, I don't mind. If I can answer it, I'll be very happy to.

  

 

HL:

I appreciate that very much. I'm going to go chronologically.

   
MH:

Well, you'll put my brain in order because it been a long time since my wife and I took over that operation, and it was just the two of us

 

 

HL:  

How old were you then?

     
MH:  

I was about 35 years old.

   

 

HL:  

Newsday said the property had been closed for while before you took over.

     
MH:  

Yes, the owner [Murray Hadfield] went to Florida and had some problems, and he put it up for sale.

   

 

HL:  

Do you know how long it was closed?

     
MH:  

Oh, I think it was closed maybe one summer because it was run down and he, of course, had to make a deal to get out of the property himself; he had some debt that he had to resolve. Oh, it was a short time; it was one summer. I took it over right after the summer [October 5, 1956].

I always believed in working into the community as part of a going business. So I became very active in the Oceanside Board of Trade right away. They were happy to see someone take over the property, renovate it and bring it back to life. Nothing was happening or developing along Long Beach Road because the Roadside Rest was a rundown operation. A lot of people weren't renewing their leases. But we put a little "jazz" into the whole community.

   

 

HL:  

What attracted you to invest in the Roadside Rest?

     
MH:  

Long Beach Road was a major road to go to the Atlantic Ocean and to Long Beach, and that's why I thought we did enough investigations to see what was happening on Long Island after the war ended. People were coming back from all over the world, and they were really moving out to the Island. That's when Levitt built their major community, and housing developed on Long Island. 

   

 

HL:  

When you took over in 1956 or early 1957, did you remove the round tables [shown in post cards circa 1940] and put in the picnic tables?

MH:  

Yes, we had to change them almost right away 'cause a lot of them were rusted -- not in good shape; they were metal tables.

   

 

HL:  

When you operated the Roadside Rest before it was Nathan's, were you serving Nathan's hot dogs?

     
MH:  

They were made by the same company that made Nathan's hot dogs, and I had arrangements to have them made with the same formula that Nathan's was using. The formula was my mother's formula, the spice formula, and I wanted to make sure that the quality and the standards were of that type.

   

 

HL:  

So they were effectively the same hot dogs.

MH:  

Absolutely. Of course, we had a little battle between the companies, but we worked things out
-- fortunately.

   

 

HL:  

Were the fries the same?

MH:  

Certainly, yes, absolutely. We used Mazola corn oil, and the potatoes came from Maine. The Maine potato was the best potato for frying. I took my knowledge that I developed in Coney Island when I was there and used that to develop the Murray-Oceanside operation.

   
HL:

Let's jump to 1959 when the property became a Nathan's.
(
Continued below)

    

Ash tray used in the early days of our Nathan's 


Promotional glass tumbler given away at our Nathan's opening

MH:

Well, my father was very concerned that I would have less of an involvement with the Nathan's operation if I stayed involved with Oceanside, and he came to me and wanted to know if I was willing to merge it into the Nathan's organization. I knew what the potential was with Nathan's, but I wasn't 100% sure of the l-o-o-o-n-g [Murray stretched that word] term advantage of being with Nathan's rather than being on my own. So we thought about it because my wife and I really went all out to put all our own personal investments into that operation. It was ours. The result was that Nathan's, of course, took it over with a long-term lease, and then I sold out everything.  

    

HL:

One last question for you, Murray. You are 82 years old.  Do you still eat hot dogs?
   

MH:

Absolutely!

 

Newsday ad for opening day, June 4, 1959  

   
 
UPDATE, May 14, 2011: We sadly report that, Murray Handwerker, the man who rescued our beloved Roadside Rest in 1956 and in 1959, along with his brother, Sol, turned it into a Nathan's Famous for all our pleasure, passed away today in Florida at age 89. After Oceanside, Murray has been ceredited with growing the Nathan's brand and the company into a national franchise and made Nathan's hot dogs a household word by bringing them to malls, airports and supermarkets everywhere for all to enjoy.

We would like the entire Handwerker family to know how much we appreciate the many, many hours of pleasure over 20 years and incredible memories that Murray gave to the people of our home town and the surrounding Long Island area by saving our beloved Roadside Rest and turning it into a Nathan's Famous. We will always treasure those memories.

According to a death notice placed in the New York Times by his family, "He will be remembered for bringing love, happiness and fond memories to so many people." His loving wife of 67 years, Dorothy, had passed away almost two years earlier in June 2009. May they rest in peace together.

The foregoing appears to be the only interview of Murray (with Dorothy) online and probably his last, according to their son, Bill, author of Nathan's Famous: The First 100 Years (whom we spoke to in 2015). The only online obituary found for Murray that mentioned our cherished Nathan's Roadside Rest in our little town, is in a web-based column (which is also linked to this page) called "The Eulogizer" of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away.

 

Click here to read what tMurray and Dorothy Handwerker said about our Nathan's/Roadside Rest page.

 

 

Copyright 2004, 2011 and 2015 by Howard B. Levy and 1960 Sailors Association Inc. All rights reserved.