The Coney Island Hot Dog, just down the street from The Blade, is turning 95 today. Opened in 1919 by Sofokles Constantine — more affectionately known as Uncle Gus — it’s still family owned, with Gus’ nephew, Frixos Stylianides, playing host now. It’s seen reporters, city administrators, firefighters and police officers, residents, visitors, and others come and go. But many of these people have also lingered for awhile before heading off to their days’ adventures.
You can stop by, spend the morning reading your newspaper, and get away from the world for awhile even while catching up with its goings-on. You can order a chili dog for breakfast if the eggs or the pancakes don’t quite strike your fancy, even at 7 o’clock in the morning. You can meet up with friends, whether the ones you’d intended to share a meal with or those who coincidentally stopped by at the same time you did, which happens often because there are so many regulars, so many for whom the Coney Island is an essential part of their lives. Folks come in and bring pictures of their new grandbabies, bring their marital quibbles, bring news of their children’s successes, bring their opinions about the day’s headlines, bring their oft-told stories (or, sometimes, their tall tales). They bring their memories, too — of Toledo, of departed loved ones who used to join them for quick and casual meals, of days gone by.
The Coney Island is almost a bit out of time — not “hipster chic” but, rather, warm and cozy as a grandmother’s kitchen might be. Frixos alternates between standing at the grill preparing food, smiling to welcome guests, sitting to chat with friends, taking payment, and sending folks off with handshakes or hugs until he sees them again. He smoothly, calmly plays whatever role is needed as people meander in or rush out - a supportive supporting player letting the spotlight shine on others, even though he’s technically the star.
Regulars kibbitz and newcomers are readily welcomed into the fray, into the family. Waitresses are both friendly and cheerful, laughing readily as options are discussed and orders are taken, but also silent and surreptitious as they refill coffee cups. Once you’re finished calling to the next table to welcome a visitor from Chicago whom Frixos has just introduced you to — a new friend, of course, whom you know you’ll see there again some day — you look down and you realize that your empty coffee cup has been refilled. You didn’t even get a chance to offer a quick “Thank you” to the waitress, she was so efficient as you were engaged in conversation.
It’s possible to sit quietly in the midst of everything, if that’s what you really want. But it’s also impossible to resist becoming a part of the scene as it plays out. And Frixos knows virtually every story line; he fills in background information to get you up to speed quickly. This older gentleman is married to a lawyer, that man owns a building nearby, this woman .... He introduces his friends to each other with brief histories, as one would at a party before allowing guests to mingle.
This is a miniature version of Toledo itself, home to all genders, all races, all occupations, all temperaments, all types, and all kinds. The city offers its characters for the daily interplay, and the restaurant contributes to the city’s own unique character in return.
The Coney Island has been at 430 North Superior for 95 years now. Stop by today to offer “Happy birthday” wishes. Enjoy a slice of life along with a slice of pie.
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