In the winter of 2017, Feltman’s of Coney Island existed as a small take-out window [behind a tavern] on St. Marks Place, the rebel heart of New York City’s East Village. As my brother Michael put it, Feltman’s had gone “from the largest restaurant in the world to the smallest kitchen on St Marks Place.”
St. Marks is the gritty cultural hub of the East Village, and the location drew a kaleidoscope of characters, from punk rock-kids and artists to Wall Street suits. But on a cold Tuesday night in February, my favorite character of all-time, my good friend Tony, walked into the tavern.
Tony was supportive of our little venture from the beginning, but as he walked in the door and surveyed the depressing scene, I saw the disconcertion in his eyes. People weren't exactly lining up for hot dogs in NYC’s Mecca for weekend warriors on a cold Tuesday night in February.
Michael and I served up some ‘dogs and drinks for Tony, and sat with him yucking it up. Then, while the bartender poured Absinthe over a flamed sugar cube behind us, Tony asked a question that would change the trajectory of our business: “What’s your target?”
We started to describe our target market when Tony stopped us to further explain: “What’s the main product you are selling? Picture a dart board, what’s at the center?” In unison, we said, “hot dogs.”
But there, in the current incarnation of Feltman’s, we weren’t selling hot dogs. Our restaurant/kitchen take-out window, which was probably a bad one at that, simply wasn’t hitting the target.
It was a crystalizing moment because for the better part of that year, we’d seen more and more potential customers arrive at our take-out window, and say that they didn’t want a cooked hot dog on a bun, but instead offered to pay as much as $20 for one cold 6-pack of our hot dogs.
I went home and stayed up all night building FeltmansOfConeyIsland.com through the WIX website builder platform. The next day, Michael and I purchased a printer, packed the fridge in his studio apartment (which was conveniently located above a UPS store) with stacks of our hot dogs, and put out the word on Facebook that Feltman’s hot dogs were now being shipped nationwide.
And then, we waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Finally, on February 7th 2017, James Quigly, order #0001, became our first online customer. Yes, James happens to be a close family friend--but an order is an order. We printed out the order form, wrote him a personal thank you note, and boxed it up in Michael’s apartment. Then we took it downstairs and shipped it UPS all the way to Brooklyn.
As I tell this story, we’ve just hit our 5,000th online order--and while our web designer is much better now, and we are no longer shipping out of Michael’s apartment, our core target is still the same: to share Feltman’s hot dogs with as many people who want them.
From the first order to the last, thanks for all the support, both in the past and into the future.
The Quinn Brothers