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NYC’s Papaya King to head west

L.A. group to open Hollywood brand of iconic hot dog brand

The iconic New York hot dog concept Papaya King is coming to the West Coast in a partnership with hospitality group SBE.

Wayne Rosenbaum, director of operations for Papaya King and the leader of a group of investors that bought the three-unit brand last March, said Wednesday that SBE plans to open the first unit outside the New York area in Hollywood in April.

Papaya King would be a dramatic departure from the high-end restaurants that Los Angeles-based SBE already operates, including The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Katsuya, Cleo, XIV by Michael Mina, Abbey and Gladstones.

Rosenbaum said SBE owner Sam Nazarian is a fan of Papaya King, and the quick-service hot dog and tropical drinks brand has a loyal following on the West Coast, judging by the large number of requests for overnight shipping of hot dogs to Southern California.

Neither Rosenbaum nor officials with SBE would say whether the partnership was a franchise deal. Rosenbaum said Papaya King is looking to franchise “eventually,” and that the brand has received many requests from potential franchisees.

An SBE spokesman also hinted that the company was planning further expansion of the Papaya King brand but would not elaborate.

Since acquiring Papaya King last year, Rosenbaum said their focus has been the renovation of the original location in Manhattan, which closed last July for a “facelift” and reopened in the fall.

The new version in Hollywood will look very similar to the original, with its retro neon signage, he said.

Papaya King was founded in 1931 by Gus Poulos, a Greek immigrant and deli owner. Initially, the concept began as a juice bar called Hawaiian Tropical Drinks featuring fresh-squeezed and blended drinks made from papaya, pineapple, strawberries and coconut. After Poulos married a German-American woman, traditional frankfurters were added to the menu and the concept took off, growing locations as a family operation.

Legend has it that Babe Ruth, who was a fan of the food, first started calling Poulos the “Papaya King,” which later became the concept’s name.

For several decades, the Papaya King chain grew to multiple locations. But by the time Poulos died in 1988, Papaya King was down to just the original location. The concept today has three locations -- the original, an outlet at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and a location in Clifton, N.J.

Rosenbaum said Papaya King’s hot dogs are made with 100 percent beef in a natural casing and smoked. The hot dogs are made fresh daily in New York, and the logistics of supplying a West Coast location are still being worked out, he said.

Papaya King will be stepping into the territory of another iconic hot dog brand: Pink’s of Los Angeles, which was founded in 1939 and remains family-owned. Over the past year, Pink’s has begun opening licensed locations at Los Angeles International Airport, Planet Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas and Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.

Southern California is also home to the 351-unit Wienerschnitzel hot dog chain, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a 99-cent chili dog deal and other promotions planned throughout the year. Wienerschnitzel is owned and franchised by The Galardi Group, based in Irvine, Calif., which is also the parent company of The Hamburger Stand and Tastee Freez LLC.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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