FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Iconic downtown restaurant Coney Island has been serving up hot dogs with a smile since 1914.
Kathy Choka’s family has owned Coney Island 97 of those 100 years. Her grandfather took over after its third year in business. Kathy’s father, Russ Choka, passed away in December of 2011 at 88. He had owned and operated the downtown restaurant for more than 50 years.
Russ Choka entered the business through his wife’s family. Russ Choka’s father-in-law was the first family member to manage Coney Island. He passed the business onto Russ because his children already had their own businesses.
In November 2013, a longtime employee of the restaurant, Jimmy Todoran, became a partner in Choka’s family-run business.
Todoran was hired by Russ Choka in 1986 as a dishwasher. He was then promoted to general manger. Many of Todoran’s family members, dating back to the 1960’s, have also worked at the restaurant including his father, uncles, cousins, and brothers.
“We want to thank everyone whether it’s the customers, Fort Wayne, the media, everyone,” Todoran told NewsChannel 15.
Two of Coney Island’s employees, Justin and Mike, have been working at the restaurant for more than 10 years. Carissa, a waitress at Coney Island, has been serving up hot dogs to customers for more than five years.
“It’s kind of a place to come if you don’t have a lunch with someone planned,” said customer Dan Urban. “Because you never really eat alone. So, that’s what brings me here. Plus, the taste of their hotdogs is really good.”
Coney Island is known for its coney dogs, steamed buns, and Classic Coca-Cola glass bottles. Until a month ago, it was also known for only accepting cash. In February, the restaurant started accepting credit and debit cards.
“It has been here ever since I can remember. It has always been a part of downtown,” says regular customer Mike Ternet. “They never thought of closing it down. Just kept it up through thick and thin.”
Coney Island is located at 131 W. Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information, visit Coney Island’s Facebook page.