The biggest coney chain outside Michigan

James Coney Island, the biggest chain outside Michigan, celebrates its 89th birthday in 2012 with 89-cent coneys.

The Houston chain has 21 restaurants.

Michigan’s big three chains, Leo’s, Kerby’s and National, are all larger. Leo’s is the biggest with more than 40 locations. Kerby’s and National have about two dozen each.

Can anyone offer a comparison of James’ coneys to Detroit or Flint style?

News flash: Red Hots Coney Island closing (but just for vacation)

Carol and Richard Harlan of Red Hots Coney Island in Highland Park have earned a couple days off. Photo by Christina Xu, licensed under Creative Commons

A rare thing to see on the calendar at Red Hots. Photo by Christina Xu, licensed under Creative Commons

We would not normally interrupt the coney dog news stream with word of a vacation, but this is the first vacation that owners Richard and Carol Harlan have taken from this Victor Street, Highland Park, coney in 15 years.

Don’t cry if your coney cravings will go unsatisfied until midweek or so. They’ll be back soon.

When you go — oh — MORE NEWS! Red Hots has totally flipped and CHANGED THE MENU. Harlan has added an all-beef slider. It is made from the same ground chuck that goes into that championship chili, but those beautiful Colossal Spanish onions are shaved for the sliders. With dill pickle (ketchup is OK on these babies, unlike the coneys), cheese or a second patty on request, and you have a good slider at a good price.

I took a friend, Christina Xu, in on Thursday when we got the news, the coneys, the slider and a side of sass.

— Joe

The menu is completely changed. Photo by Christina Xu, licensed under Creative Commons

Coney Detroit events in August: Come see us

We’d love to hear your coney stories and tell you what we’ve learned in the course of researching “Coney Detroit,” published by Wayne State University Press. It has been a labor of coney love.

Aug. 23: Trenton Historical Society meets at Mom’s Restaurant, 2691 Fort Street, Trenton. 7 p.m.

Aug. 26: Clawson Arts & Authors, noon

Aug. 28: Kiwanis Club of Troy luncheon presentation

See what other events are coming up by clicking the “events” tab on our home page. We want to get around to everyone!

— Katherine and Joe

National Chili Dog Day July 26

We offer a coney dog salute to National Chili Day, the marriage of two great foods, on July 26.

We would like top use the occasion to make a public service announcement.

Coney island hot dog with fries.

Some people ask us whether a coney dog isn’t really just a chili dog.

Although we love and respect the chili dog, it is not just another name for that special concoction, the coney dog.

The chief difference is the beans.

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Coney island cook; chefs need not apply

Here is a job posting that says a lot about Detroit coney islands:

“Looking for Experienced Short order Coney Island COOK ASAP. Looking for a long time employment, looking for someone fast, clean & team worker. Must have experience & ready to work.Good Hours, please DO NOT call unless you have CONEY ISLAND grill/deep fyer/salad experience/reading short hand tickets..being a chef, culinary art school, prep cook, fast food etc etc is not the same as Coney Grill cooking.This is for the midnight shift 9pm-7am!”

Get the book at half price

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Wayne State University Press is offering “Coney Detroit” at half off the cover price as a Deal Chicken special this week. You have to go to the Press’ office on Woodward Avenue but while you’re there you can pick up on some eggstra deals.

You just don’t find new books at this price — and all the author and photographer royalties still go to the Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan. Plan ahead on your gift shopping and save a bundle. Click and check the chicken.

100. RedHots Coney Island, Highland Park

Richard and Carol Harlan, married 35 years and still working side by side.

12 Victor St.
Highland Park, MI 48203

RedHots Coney Island website


This is it. We have taken you to 100 coney islands in 100 weekdays. On some days, in fact, we took you to more than one because there are just so darn many coney islands in the Detroit area.

We have saved this gem for last — and ate here only today. We were directed here by Jason Carr of Channel 2, painter Louis Morand III and others. They and others swear this is the best coney island in Detroit. It makes a credible claim to being the oldest.

Eugenia "Jean" Harlan is Richard's mogther and has been coming to RedHots for 72 years. Her sister's in-laws, the Nicholson;s. previously owned the place.

RedHots, also called Victor or Victor’s, after the street, is just east off Woodard Avenue and boasts some of the best coney dog chili you will ever find.

Owner Richard Harlan is very fussy about his chili. This is the very item that distinguishes most coneys from the others. We visited many, many coneys that start with someone else’s sauce and then fix it up with their secret mix of spices. Harlan makes his from scratch.

He begins with ground chuck and real onions and garlic. He does not use powdered ingredients and he does not use the ground beef heart you will find in other chili sauces.

The mustard should be positioned so as not to interfere with that chili.

He starts his sauce at 6 a.m., an hour before weekday openings times, and it simmers till 2 or 3 p.m. Then, he puts it away for the following day or the day after, letting the flavors meld. What spices does he use? If you find out, tell us.

He buys his hot dogs from Dearborn Sausage and he buys the smaller ones that go 10 to the pound rather than the larger and more standard 8:1. He is not saving money. He is doing this to make more room int he coney for his chili. “We’re not here for the hot dog,” he said, “we’re here for the chili.”

With the chili in mind, he puts the mustard underneath it, rather than on top, which he says people do because it looks better.

“Your first bite is to taste the chili, and the mustard just messes you up,” he said. “You want the top of your mouth to hit the chili.”

He uses standard yellow salad mustard, like a lot of places, but is negotiating to get back a zippier old Detroit favorite, Red Pelican mustard., which has been revived.

He finely dices Colossal Spanish onions. “I throw them out if they’re not right.”

The sign says coney islands, but it does not mention the name of the restuarant.

RedHots and Victor Bakery are surrounded by the neglect and demolition that have practically erased what once was here when Mr. Ford’s motor car company was turning out thousands of Model Ts and thousands of hungry workers who would all but storm the tiny RedHots, grabbing a couple wrapped coneys and dropping their money in an honor box. Harlan says some people still prefer the coneys wrapped, so much so that they will ask to have them wrapped and then eat them at one of the booths, tables or stools.

Richard and Carol Harlan, married 35 years.

Eugenia “Jean” Harlan, Richard’s motherm, is in her 80s and has been hanging around this place for 72 years. It was owned by her sister’s in-laws.

Started by Nick Nicholson, a Greek immigrant who came through New York City and, as Richard tells it, saw hot dogs at Coney Island.

67. National Coney Island, Roseville

27027 Gratiot Ave.
Roseville, MI 48066


For two weeks, we’ll tale a look at coney islands known for their artwork. There are some great one. Does any art school offer a course in the coney masters?

Detroit is known for the giant tire along I-94, but the huge rotating cone along I-696 warrants some attention, too. It is one of the largest novelty advertising icons in metro Detroit and the largest we know of at any coney island.

The place with the towering cone has been through some change. According to the Susie-Q Facebook page, the restaurant and bake shop was owned by Albert K and Julia Bergel and was built in the early 1960s. The restaurant later became an Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips and then Dimitri’s.

A Bergel family video on the Facebook page
shows the cone being constructed.

Now, as one of three National Coney Islands in Roseville, it bears the National name in neon. National is the dominant change on the east side of the metro area and the giant torch seems to proclaim that.

Gonzo becomes ‘The Coney Guy’

John Gonzalez, known as Gonzo, is becoming better known as “The Coney Guy” for having the bravery to take on the challenge of finding Michigan’s best coney dog.

Exterior of a big, boxy Hollywood Coney Island

Hey, Gonzo, I want to take you here.

But I think he may have eaten one too many coneys. he is already planning a 2013 coney project and — without asking — is trying to involve ME! He at least wants to see a Volume II of “Coney Detroit.” Such nerve!

Where do I sign up? Check out the video stories on his latest post for MLIve.

— Joe Grimm