In 1869, a German immigrant named Karl Feltmann established a beer garden and entertainment space (right on the spot where Luna Park currently stands). He also owned a bakery in Park Slope, and his idea to serve a German sausage in a long soft bread roll was introduced to New Yorkers, and then the whole world, as “Coney Island Red Hots,” under his own Americanized name, Charles Feltman. Though the cost has certainly gone up from the original 10 cents, they are still enjoyed as the cost-effective, convenient, and ubiquitous indulgence we now call “hot dogs.” Though many think Nathan’s is the original New York frank, Nathan Handwerker (yes that was his real name) worked with his hands as a bun slicer for Feltman’s. Handwerker was lent $350 by Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor (then entertainers at Feltman’s) to open his own hot dog stand. He did just that, and with his Mother-in-law’s all-beef recipe, he and his wife Ida entered the hot dog market as a direct competitor with Feltman, and at ONLY 5 CENTS A FRANK! Though it is often said that this put Feltman’s out of business, in fact, Feltman (who never lowered his price to stoop to his disloyal competitor’s standards) stayed in business for another 40 years. Though Charles Feltman is now buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, his delicious brand of hot dogs can still be enjoyed at Manhattan’s famous McSorley’s Old Ale House!
Leo Hirschfield was the son of an Austrian Jewish candy maker, so it makes perfect sense that upon his immigration to NYC, he would open a small candy shop in Brooklyn, in 1896. He immediately set about creating new combinations of his invention, Bromangelon Jelly Powder, with something that could compete with the oversaturated market of hard penny candies. A notable obstacle at the time, was the fact that chocolate was then too expensive for casual candy consumers, so it sold separately, and at a much higher price, than the candy sold in smaller shops. Hirschfield worked tirelessly to find a way to combine cocoa and other available items into new kinds of affordable candies that could easily get from shelf to happy chewing without sticking or melting too easily. So when he perfected and patented his delicious confection in 1907, the candy world would forever be changed to now know the candy he named after his own daughter, Clara, or “Toosie,” as was his nickname for her. And thus the Tootsie Roll was born.
Staten Island Sweets
American scientist, one-time Civil War photographer, and even reported glass-blower, Thomas Adams also worked as a secretary to former Mexican leader Antonio López de Santa Anna. A natural gum called chicle was a favorite of the leader, so like any good scientist who studies his boss chewing on things, he immediately set about trying to make it into rubber for tires. Thankfully that was neither a delicious, nor viable formula for that gum, so he opened a factory to make and sell New York Chewing Gum. In 1870, he created the first flavored gum, the same color as the tires he’d tried unsuccessfully to make, but flavored with licorice, it was called “Black Jack.” He then invented a chewing gum making machine a year later, and in 1888, his chewy choice, Tutti Frutti, was the first to be available in vending machines. Their most popular product, Chiclets were introduced to the world in 1915. Adams passed away from pneumonia in 1905, but his contribution to the world’s candy is still popping today. It’s also important to note that the evolution of chewing gum bears contributions from what seems to be an entire world of separate cultures, including South American, Mexican, and Native American influences. British settlers even learned to chew gum from their Native American neighbors. Though he did not directly invent chewing gum, Adams made it delicious, easy to manufacture, and very easy and inexpensive to get.
It is well-known that many of the famous foods and delicious NYC confections came about as a result of mistakes, miracles, and some memorable moments of intentional or accidental genius, but the story of how Greek immigrant ‘Morris “Moishe” Cohen left his footprint on the Lower East Side is truly sweet.
It begins with a hat and shoe repair shop called either King’s Shoes or Economy Shoes, (the name seems to be disputed) owned by Cohen. They also opened a candy cart out in front of the store. When the Great Depression hit NYC, the repair business began to take a distant second place to the candy cart’s thriving business, as New Yorkers didn’t have money for large things, but everyone had a penny for candy. The trend was helped along in the 30’s when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took on the carts in what some might call an all-out war to rid the city of cart vendors. So the candy business boomed, as it moved out of the cart, and into the storefront, until it eventually became what is now known as Economy Candy. Purported to have probably the greatest selection of candy in New York City, from all over the world, it seems like every single inch of the space is stacked with every kind of candy, and there’s always something new to discover with every delicious visit! On July 29th, 2023 New York City co-named the northwest corner of Rivington and Essex Streets ‘Morris “Moishe” Cohen Way’ in his honor.
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