The hot dog joint has been an NYC icon since 1932, but struggled to succeed elsewhere.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 11, 2018
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Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

If you know New York City, you’re almost certainly familiar with the concept of restaurants that serve a mix of hot dogs and papaya juice—often alongside other fast food items and juices. To an outsider, these typically neon-signed joints seem a bit odd at first, until you grow to accept them in the same way you accept that a lot of pizzerias can be named Ray’s. Meanwhile, variations on these joints are so commonplace in the Big Apple, a native New Yorker might be surprised that they are far less common outside of the Five Boroughs. But that’s not to say people have never tried to bring them to a larger audience… and one of the biggest names in the papaya game is about to try again.

First opened in 1932, Papaya King bills itself as “the original”—“accept no imitations.” (Sorry, Gray’s Papaya, et. al.) Though that assertion has garnered the brand plenty of street cred in NYC—along with the worldwide recognition that comes with being such a Big Apple icon—Papaya King has struggled to expand its empire beyond its original Upper East Side Manhattan location. Over the years, attempts have been made as far west as San Francisco and as far south as Miami. But even expanding within the city has failed on multiple occasions. However, according to Eater, the King is once again trying to extend its reign across the U.S.

The brand’s current owner, Wayne Rosenbaum—who took over in 2010—has reportedly signed a franchise agreement with QSR Franchise Development Group to open about 15 to 20 new locations in the next year. The focus will initially be to open smaller “express” versions of the restaurant in places like airports, universities, and food halls primarily in the Northeast. However, the brand also said that regular-sized restaurants will also be considered, and locations as far away as Florida and Los Angeles are being discussed.

Rosenbaum and QSR founder Steven Gardner said they are planning on using a mix of modern menu tweaks—like adding to “green juices” as part of a plan “to capture the juice crowd in the morning”—as well as playing up the company’s “retro” appeal, to help sell the concept to a new generation. “It’s been a really neglected brand for a number of years,” Gardner told Eater. Just don’t tell that to a drunk person looking for a hot dog at midnight on a Saturday.