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86 years later and still, nothing beats a Coney

DCN Reporter

Some things never change. After 86 years, the original Coney Island still stands at 105 E. Superior St. in downtown Duluth.

Betty Tenkanen is the current manager of the Coney Island, which she has made home for the past 14 years. Even her son and daughter choose to work beside her in this small, close-knit restaurant.

Dated back to 1921, being the oldest restaurant in Duluth, Coney Island hasn’t changed much. The floor may creak a little more and the walls may have more cracks than the year before. However, the original recipes have managed to remain.

coney outside.jpg
Photo by Lisa Kunkel

“It’s one of the few things in Duluth that hasn’t changed,? said Jim Bartel, a regular customer at Coney Island.

A large menu sign hanging on a wall in the back of the restaurant is a reminder of the Coney Island he grew up with.

“Coney Island: 25 cents? reads the sign which was dated back to 1959. A price that will now barely land you enough time at a parking meter to eat a Coney Island.

“I always came down here when I was in junior high school,? Bartel said.

However, he mentioned that, like other kids, this was against his mother’s wishes.

“Coney Island was off limits to the kids,? he said. “‘You don’t go down in that neighborhood,’ my mother would say.?

Nancyline Owens, who has also been coming to Coney Island since she was young, shared similar guidelines.

“They didn’t want me coming here,? she said.

Bartel said that everything east of 14th Ave. E. was considered the “good? part of town. Coney Island did not lie within those limits.

“Those were good families with good values,? he said.

However, all he and his friends cared about were good hot dogs and good company. Coney Island was just what they were looking for.

How did this small restaurant in downtown Duluth become such a landmark and popular tourist site?

The Pagonus family were the first ones to introduce the Coney Island to Duluth.

Tony Pagonus, who took over the business after his father, Tom, has an idea of what made this little place so well known.
Tony Pagonus, 1972
“The hotdog is the superstar,? said Pagonus in a 1972 Duluth News Tribune article titled “Tony’s got a secret, where the hotdog is king.?

Pagonus made it clear that his personal Coney Island recipe is what brought the customers back day after day.

“I sell ten hot dogs for every hamburger,? said Pagonus in the article. “The recipe is worth more than my business. And it’s top secret too.
He said the chili sauce used on the hot dogs is an old family recipe that has been passed down to him.
Tony Pagonis, 1972
Pagonus passed away last year at the age of 80, according to a June, 2006 issue of the Duluth News Tribune, yet, his famous Coney Islands still live on.

Though she may not be part of the Pagonus family tree, Tenkanen said that even today, people are craving the original Coney Island.
old menu.jpg
photo by Lisa Kunkel

“The hot dogs and my good homemade chili,? she said were the most popular items on today’s menu.

However, it’s not just the famous food that draws people into Coney Island. The unique, old fashioned décor of the restaurant is similar to what would be seen in the Coney Island years ago.

Though many of the decorations are well dated, Tenkanen decided to add her own personal touch when she took over as manager.
betty boop.jpg
Photo by Lisa Kunkel

“The Betty Boop wall,? she said, “that was my idea.?
Whether it be a hot summer’s day or a blistering snowstorm, the Coney Island will still be cooking on 105 E. Superior St., just as they have been for 86 years.


The Original Coney Island's coneys are the best, I have tried many others but none compare, my mom introduced them to me at a young age and I have enjoyed them ever since.

I an looking info on how to find a picture of a food stand, oval, with betty boop on the side, red white and blue decor on outsid of food stand. remember eating a hot dog at this stand in the 1950s. any help would be greatly appreciated.