Royal OakJune 1, 2011
Detroit Zoo ‘relishes’ opening of American Coney
By Heidi Roman
C & G Staff Writer
For nearly a century, the exact same secret chili recipe has been served on top of the exact same hot dogs, on the exact same buns, topped with the exact same sweet Vidalia onions at American Coney Island on Lafayette Street in Detroit.
And for nearly a century, that was the only place to get it.
But last week, American Coney Island took its very first step toward expansion, serving their famous chilidogs at a new café inside the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak.
“It will be the exact same (chilidog) you get downtown,” said Grace Keros, third-generation owner of American Coney Island. “You don’t change what’s been working for 94 years.”
The restaurant has been a mainstay in downtown Detroit since Keros’ grandfather, Gus Keros, opened the first and only location in 1917.
“My dad (Chuck Keros) came in after that, and I’ve been here 20 years,” Grace Keros said. “There’s a lot of history here.”
Keros said opening at the zoo was a historical moment for her family and that there was no doubt it was a wise move for them.
“It just worked,” she said. “It’s the best match. We’ve been serving generations of families, and so has the zoo.”
The Detroit Zoo opened in 1928 and has several other cafés and eateries scattered around the park.
The zoo’s newest 1,250-square-foot café opened May 26 along the North Mall Road, next to the summer exhibit “Dinosauria.” This American Coney serves classic chilidogs, loose burgers, French fries, gyros and Greek salads. It is open during regular zoo hours, and on opening day zoo patrons had no beef about ordering a chilidog for breakfast.
The partnership has worked so well that both parties are wondering why they didn’t go for it decades ago.
“We approached them about (the idea),” said Patricia Janeway, communications director for the zoo. “We thought a Coney would be great here. We’re really excited about it; there’s only one other American Coney, on Lafayette.”
The restaurant will be managed by Service Systems Associates (SSA), which operates all concessions and retail services for the Detroit Zoological Society, but the ingredients for the menu items will be shipped in by American Coney Island.
“SSA has done a marvelous job of recreating the authenticity of the restaurant,” Keros said.
American Coney also sells chilidog kits online, which can be shipped anywhere in the United States. Visit www.americanconeyisland.com for more information.
The Detroit Zoo is located at the intersection of 10 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak. For zoo hours and admission fees, visit www.detroitzoo.org or call (248) 541-5717.
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