American Coney Island to celebrate a century of service

Founded by Gust Keros in 1917, American Coney Island will celebrate 100 years of business May 18 with a day-long party featuring rollback pricing, live music and giveaways

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
  • American Coney Island opened in 1917 at near the corner of Lafayette and Michigan
  • Founder Gust Keros, a Greek immigrant, named his restaurant after the New York City amusement park
  • Today the Keros family has locations in Las Vegas and at the Detroit Zoo, plus a coney kit business
  • A 100th anniversary party is May 18 with rollback pricing, music and a t-shirt designed by Kid Rock

One hundred years ago, Greek immigrant Gust Keros started serving hot dogs on a cart and shining shoes near Lafayette and Michigan.

According to the story told by Keros’ grandchildren, one day a customer asked Keros if he had any other toppings besides the usual to put on his dogs. Keros was also serving a chili soup, a Greek recipe he brought over from his native country, so he topped the dog with that, plus some mustard and onions.

The rest is a history that every Detroiter can’t help but know.

Next week the Keros family celebrates not just their 100-year-old restaurant, but decades of history that intertwines their family with the city of Detroit. They’ll throw a daylong party May 18 with throwback pricing, a barbershop quartet, giveaways, memorabilia and of course, cake.

The hot dog cart became a small restaurant near the same corner in 1917. In the early 1920s, Keros brought his brother over from Greece to help him run the business he named American Coney Island after two things he loved: his new country and Coney Island in New York City, one of the first things he saw after arriving at Ellis Island.

Next week American Coney Island celebrates not just 100 years, but decades of history that intertwines the Keros family with the city of Detroit.

(The brothers had a falling out and in 1924, Keros’ brother Bill Keros opened Lafayette Coney Island next door where it still operates today. The storied rivalry has been covered by local and national media, but the truth is no one in the Keros family has owned Lafayette for decades.)

Through renovations, expansions, city catastrophes, blackouts, water main breaks and other things that would close a restaurant for at least a few hours, American Coney Island has been open.

Chris Sotiropoulos, who owns American with sister Grace Keros, said you could “probably count on one hand” how many times they’ve had to close in 100 years. They are grandchildren of founder Gust Keros, making theirs the longest-running business in Detroit that’s consistently been owned by the same family.

Their father, Charles Keros, took over the 24-hour-restaurant from his father and expanded it from a small grill and diner counter to the large American-themed restaurant that covers the corner where Michigan meets Lafayette.

The space used to be United Shirt, a men’s clothing store. When they went out of business, Keros made an offer (and he didn’t close for business during the renovations, either).

“So now we’re like a big triangle, like a big piece of American pie,” said Grace Keros of the patriotic-themed restaurant. “Red, white and blue, tacky, nice, cool.”

Through the large restaurant windows, the Keros family has seen the city change.

“My dad was here when the riots were here, when the Tigers won the first World Series,” Sotiropoulos said.

“All through these years there’s been great times, good times, terrible times, then back to good and bad ... we’ve managed to stick it out no matter what,” Keros said. “My dad says this ... Detroit’s been good to us, but we’ve also been good for Detroit. We’ve been a shining light in Detroit for 100 years. How many people around here can say that?”

Besides keeping memories alive for generations of coney-lovers, American Coney Island — which has a location at the Detroit Zoo and in Las Vegas — also has made great efforts to support the city’s police and fire departments. The May 18 party will feature a raffle to raise money for the Detroit Police Fund and Detroit Firemen’s Benevolent Fund.

“Without the support of police and fire, the city is going to go back to where it was,” said Sotiropoulos, who adds that his restaurant is probably the safest in the city because they hire armed, uniformed police officers to keep watch on weekend nights. “They’re such an instrumental part of the city’s survival.”

“If you don’t take care of those guys and that organization, you’ve got nothing,” said Grace Keros. “Shiny restaurants and a choo-choo train ain’t doing nothing.”

In regard to the influx of restaurants in Detroit, Keros said she’s unfazed.

“What we’re doing, nobody’s doing, but the restaurant market I think is saturated,” she said. “There’s way too many for this town. Way too many.”

While everyone from actor George Clooney to the actual Queen of England has visited American Coney Island over the past century, it’s the regular people that Grace Keros sees daily that she said is most important to the business.

“The people,” she said. “Families serving families, for 100 years.”

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens

American Coney Island 100th ‘Coneyversary’

9 a.m.-9 p.m. May 18

114 W. Lafayette, Detroit

(313) 961-7758

Party highlights

■Rollback pricing (including 5 cent coneys 9-10 a.m. and $1 coneys 3-4 p.m.), giveaways, DJ Maroon, a barbershop quartet and a performance by Thornetta Davis

■The debut of a 100th anniversary American Coney Island shirt designed by Kid Rock

■Raffle to win a trip to the D Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and free coneys for a year. Proceeds will benefit the Detroit Police Fund and Detroit Firemen’s Benevolent Fund

■Commemorative glass from Atwater Brewery, free with purchase of Atwater beer