Durable Dogs: Philip’s Original Coney Island Turns 100

March 8, 2012

Durable Dogs

Durable Dogs: Philip’s Original Coney Island Turns 100

The line of hungry customers snaked out the door, eager for their chance to feast on chili and cheese-covered hot dogs made with a recipe so secret it’s never been written on paper in the 100 years since it was created.

Even after a century, the coneys still draw a crowd.

Phillip’s Original Coney Island is 100 years old today, a feat the family owned restaurant is celebrating this week with $1 coneys, free birthday cake and giveaways to its customers.

Owners Nicholas Manus, who’s a great-grandson of the namesake Phillip Manus, and his father, Jim Manus, said the celebration is to thank their customers, who have been loyal even through the recent downturn.

“Like any business, we felt the effects of the recession. But with an understanding staff that was willing to do with less and a loyal customer base that keeps coming back, we’ve been able to stay in business,” Nicholas Manus said.

In fact, the company’s sales are up 4.6 percent over the previous year, Jim Manus said.

Opened in 1912 by Phillip Manus shortly after he immigrated to the United States from Greece, the first coney was sold out of a stand housed in a small storefront space under a stairwell in a Downtown building, Jim Manus said.

The restaurant company has continued to do business near Downtown or on the West Side in various locations, finally settling in its Franklinton location at 450 W. Broad St. in 1982. It’s always been run by a Manus.

The family opened a second location, Phillip’s Son Coney Island on N. High Street in 1930 and operated both locations until the second location was sold in the 1970s, Nicholas Manus said.

That location, at 747 N. High St., is not affiliated with the Manus family, he said.

Founder Phillip Manus’ sons, George and William, were involved in one or the other of the businesses, joined later by a Phillip R. Manus, a grandson of the founder.

Nicholas Manus, who took over the company as president in 2002 from his father, said his goal has been to keep the business family owned and operated.

“My first stop from the hospital after birth was the restaurant, where I was passed around to customers over the counter,” he said. “And at 10, I can remember standing on milk crates in the kitchen pulling order tickets off the wheel and busing tables.”

Being a family business isn’t unusual. In fact, about 90 percent of all U.S. businesses are family owned or operated, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

What is unusual is to have one survive a century.

Nearly 70 percent of all family owned businesses close before reaching the second generation, and 88 percent close before the third generation, according to the Family Firm Institute, a Boston-based research company.

About 3 percent of family owned businesses survive to the fourth generation and beyond, the group said.

What’s even more unusual is for a food-oriented business to remain open for 100 years, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago restaurant- and food-research group.

Central Ohio seems to have something going for it, because it’s home to at least several other long-lived food-related businesses. They include Schmidt’s — now a restaurant but which started as a meat company — which is 125. Utica-based Velvet Ice Cream traces its roots to 1914, and White Castle, the nation’s first and oldest fast-food hamburger chain, was started in 1921.

“Maybe there’s something in the air over there,” Tristano said, with a laugh.

To sustain such longevity, consistency in ownership, leadership and philosophy of the brand is important, as well as evolving and adapting over time, Tristano said.

“It also helps to have a unique or regional food that you serve and that you do very well,” he said. “If you’re doing it well, it keeps competitors out of the marketplace.”

For the Phillip’s crew, that has meant keeping the focus on offering original menu items, including coney islands made with the secret chili sauce that takes more than eight hours to make from scratch each day, and a chili soup made with dry red beans that needs to simmer four hours before it’s ready for the bowl, Jim Manus said.

They’ve also added items to reflect changing consumer tastes, including a veggie sandwich and salads, he said.

For Randy Hormann, a Cincinnati native who grew up eating at Skyline Chili, the coneys at Phillip’s Original Coney Island are better than the chain offerings because of its “home-style” feel and taste.

“I’ve been stopping in here for the past six years,” the Reynoldsburg resident said. “I like the atmosphere because it makes it a great place to just pop in.

“I come about once a month. It’s become something I look forward to when I have to come Downtown.”

View the full article on The Columbus Dispatch