Southeast Portland Institution Nick’s Famous Coney Island Has New Owners

Expect the East Coast diner vibes to remain while the quality of the hot dogs improves.

The Hawthorne district's most iconic hot dog bar is about to get an upgrade.

Nick's Famous Coney Island, the 84-year-old restaurant renowned for its chili-and-onion-smothered franks, has new owners. And they've got some plans for the place.

But don't take that as a sign that they're are about to overhaul an institution.

"I almost look at it more as being caretakers rather than owners," says Dave Bertelo, who, along with Nick Brown, also runs the boozy cocktail bar Haymaker on North Killingsworth Street.

Bertelo—who grew up in New Jersey—says he wants to retain Nick's East Coast gritty diner vibe. He actually tried to buy the eatery after its longtime proprietor, the late Frank Nudo, retired in 2008, but didn't have enough money for the project at the time.

Now, as the current owners look to pass the baton, he's looking forward to continuing the restaurant's legacy.

Bertelo would love to enlarge some of the original photos of the joint and hang them on the walls. The bathrooms are due for some sprucing up—as well as adaptations to make them more easily accessible for customers with disabilities. Bertelo adds that there's a game room off to the side that desperately needs some love.

What you may notice in months to come is the caliber of the food has improved. Bertelo has an entire fridge filled with hot dogs from local purveyors that he's working his way through to determine which links are worthy. And he hopes to replace the pastrami in the Reuben with meat they house-smoke at Haymaker.

But otherwise, the character of the place will remain untouched.

"I don't want to turn this into a generic hipster Portland bar, and I'm not trying to make it a Haymaker 2," Bertelo says. "I'm steadfast on Nick's Coney Island staying Nick's Coney Island."

Related: Where to Eat Cheap in Inner Southeast.