Lessons Learned from Nathan’s

“You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy.”

Innovation Engineering
Photo credit: drpavloff via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Growing up in Brooklyn, I could bicycle about 5 miles to the ocean and Coney Island. I would always stop at Nathan’s Famous. The stop was always for a hot dog, some fries, a Coke, and then a day on the beach. For those who do not know, Nathan’s has sold more than 500 million (all-beef) hot dogs since its inception; it’s brand of hotdogs are now available at more than 53,000 outlets in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.

I may not be one of the celebrity loyalists — those included performers such as Cary Grant, Barbara Streisand, gangsters Al Capone, Scarface, Bugsy Siegel, and politicians Bernie Sanders, President Donald Trump… But how does this memory relate to this blog?

Lessons Learned from Nathan’s

Nathan Handwerker, an Eastern European Jewish immigrant arrived at Ellis Island speaking not a word of English, unable to read or write, and with twenty-five dollars hidden in his shoes. He had a simple goal: work hard, remain fiercely loyal to what matters most, customers and employees, and stay focused on what you know best. Nathan’s began in 1916 and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Coney Island location is now home, of course, to the 4th of July hot-dog eating contest.

Whether or not you’re dealing with hotdogs, though, we can all learn from Nathan’s. First, stay loyal. This cuts across all aspects of work and family. BHS is over 400 years old, so we have been around a long time. But staying loyal to your business, process, technology or whatever you are engaged with is critical to success.

Nathan’s always focused on “quality food at a fair price” to “bring the customers back.” Nathan personally checked every hot dog that came into the restaurant as well as oil temperature for the fries and grill temperature. As a technology supplier, quality at a fair price is what we do. On the operations side, providing quality chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., is the key to survival.

Initially Nathan’s sold hot dogs for 10 cents, the same price as the popular Coney Island outpost Feltman’s beer garden. Then, the enterprising young entrepreneur, after netting a mere $60 in his first days of business, decided to lower his prices to 5 cents. With higher volume his next week’s receipts totaled $260. This was the first fast-food price war and one of the brand’s first innovations.

Nathan’s also introduced the food industry, to purifying the cooking oil, refrigeration and cleanliness as well as “chow mein on a bun” and beer after prohibition.

Loyalty, quality, innovation…seems that I learned a lot from those “old” Brooklyn days. Let me know how your younger days influenced your career. I’m sure we will hear some interesting stories.

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