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A Brief History of American Coney Island

The iconic hot dog stand turns 100 years old this month

American Coney Island
Michelle and Chris Gerard
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

What is the secret recipe for 100 years in business? It might have something to do with simplicity. One hundred years ago this month, American Coney Island in downtown Detroit opened its doors to the public selling a simple recipe — a hot dog on a steamed bun with loose chili, mustard, and chopped onions. Today the restaurant is a landmark: a little slice of red, white, and blue Detroit culture in a flat iron building.

Whereas it once served factory workers, American now fields visits from comedians like Keegan Michael-Key and actor George Clooney. Yet the restaurant hasn’t lost its blue collar appeal. Although coneys are no longer a nickel, a meal at this 24-hour Greek diner is still considered one of the best ways to stretch a dollar.

black and white photo
American Coney Island’s original interior.
Courtesy of American Coney Island

In debate about coney islands, American inevitably ranks as one of the best establishments for a chili dog and fries. Even Eater’s critic Bill Addison was taken with the old-school flavors of American’s proprietary Dearborn Sausage dogs, noting that they “flaunted more snap” than those served at neighboring Lafayette Coney Island.

As with any good restaurant mythology, there are many differing accounts of the early history of American Coney Island. At times it’s difficult to sort out the fact from the legend. Below, Eater has compiled a rough timeline of some of the highlights in the history of this Motor City food icon.

American Coney Island is celebrating its Coneyversary in Detroit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 18. The day will feature $1 coney deals from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and cake as well as commemorative swag and performances by local musicians. Similar parties will also be hosted at the D Las Vegas Hotel and Casino on May 25 and the Detroit Zoo outpost on May 20.

Several photos featured in timeline are published with permission from American Coney Island.

The Cult of the Detroit Coney Dog, Explained [E]

All American Coney Island Coverage [ED]

All Icons Coverage [ED]

American Coney Island

114 West Lafayette Boulevard, , MI 48226 (313) 961-7758 Visit Website