Coney Island celebrates nine decades

2012-07-22T00:00:00Z 2012-07-22T07:50:55Z Coney Island celebrates nine decadesBy STEVE CAHALAN For the La Crosse Tribune La Crosse Tribune

Hot dog! Three generations of the Kapellas family are celebrating the 90th anniversary of La Crosse-area Coney Island hot dog restaurants, and continue to look for a South Side site.

Special anniversary promotions will be held late this summer, said Chris Kapellas, who owns the business with his parents, Tom and Sandy Kapellas.

Best known for its chili hot dog, the family’s first Coney Island opened in 1922 at 114 S. Fourth St. in downtown La Crosse. It’s been there ever since and serves as headquarters for the Kapellas’ chain of four Coney Islands. The other locations are in Bridgeview Plaza and Valley View Mall in La Crosse, and in West Salem.

Tom Kapellas still uses a secret recipe to make the restaurants’ chili sauce. “I got it from my dad,” he said.

His father, Jim Kapellas, and Tom Sideras opened the first restaurant. In 1962, Sideras died and Tom Kapellas bought his share of the business. Jim Kapellas retired in 1963 but remained active in the business until his death in 1975.

Chris Kapellas, who oversees operations today, is part of the third generation of Kapellas to work at the restaurants. The others are his siblings, Ann Zumach, and Joan and Jim Kapellas.

His son, Kai, is 11 and works part-time at the restaurants during summer vacation and on Saturdays during the school year. He hasn’t decided whether to have a career in the restaurant industry.

Same spot

“We’re still here,” Tom Kapellas said of the original downtown restaurant and the family’s newer locations. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

“We’ve made it through the Great Depression and through recessions,” Chris Kapellas added.

Why has the business survived for 90 years?

“I had a good teacher,” Tom Kapellas said of his father. “I learned customer service and honesty. And there was a little luck besides.”

The family has made some good expansion decisions through the years, Chris Kapellas said, starting with the 1972 opening of Coney Island in the then-new Bridgeview Plaza shopping center. The third location opened in 1978 in Shelby Mall on the city’s South Side, but closed in 2003 after it lost its lease.

The two other Coney Islands opened in 1980 in Valley View Mall and in 2004 in West Salem.

“We’re looking at the South Side again” for a new location, Chris Kapellas said. “We’re looking for the right spot with the right numbers.” He doesn’t have a timetable for opening a restaurant there.

Kapellas said the family recently signed a new five-year lease on its Bridgeview Plaza location.

Keep it local

He also said his family believes in buying local. For example, its hot dogs are made by the Bakalars Sausage Co. in La Crosse.

The four restaurants together have about 60 employees, most of them part time.

While Tom Kapellas has spent his entire career at the Coney Island restaurants, son Chris spent several years working at restaurants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and in Steamboat, Colo., before returning to La Crosse 12 years ago to help his parents run the business.

Since he returned, Coney Islands’ menu has expanded to include salads, other sandwiches, kids’ meals and combo meals.

But the restaurants’ chili dog remains the biggest seller.

Different delivery

Coney Island usually ships about three or four orders of chili dog fixings each week to customers around the nation, many of them former area residents who miss the taste.

Coney Island ships the packages of hot dogs, chili sauce, buns and mustard on Mondays and Tuesdays, using dry ice to keep them cold until they arrive. Customers can order them by telephone or on the restaurants’ website.

Coney Island received its first such order in 1998 from a former La Crosse-area resident who was living in Hawaii. That first order was for 100 hot dogs and chili sauce.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. nancymax
    Report Abuse
    nancymax - July 22, 2012 6:15 pm
    When I was seventeen,I spent my lunch hours at Coney Island downtown (always two coneys with onions and a Pepsi). Now every time we come back to La Crosse, my grandchildren insist we go to Coney Island. Sometimes we stop in there even before we go to visit relatives. Ever think of setting up a franchise in Warrensburg, Mo.? It's another college town just like La Crosse.
  2. bals
    Report Abuse
    bals - July 22, 2012 4:24 pm
    the inability to post a picture of a real Coney reflects on the credibility of the reporter
  3. rimosquared
    Report Abuse
    rimosquared - July 22, 2012 2:19 pm
    What a fabulous write-up. As a young child, I remember going downtown and to Bridgeview Plaza as a kid. Then when the mall opened up, we frequented the mall Coney. I'm proud to say my FIRST job at 17 was at Coney in the mall. I cannot stand eating hotdogs, however I will it a Coney Dog "With" any day of the week. Those aren't hotdogs, those are heaven. I'm happy to report that my three kids love Coney, too. I think they'd take Coney over McD's, anyday! Kapellas family the only thing wrong with your business is that you don't have one in HOLMEN! ;D Congrats to you all and here's to 90 more years.
  4. CoriMH
    Report Abuse
    CoriMH - July 22, 2012 11:54 am
    What a great article! Much congrats and love to the Kapellas family!
  5. Talulah3
    Report Abuse
    Talulah3 - July 22, 2012 11:10 am
    Nice article, nice family! Coney dogs---yum!
  6. allcav
    Report Abuse
    allcav - July 22, 2012 10:14 am
    What is that abomination in the paper that purports to be a Coney? Doesn't look like any Coney dog I've seen. Wasn't there a second Coney Island downtown at one time, or was that under another name? When I was a kid, I'd go to Coney and then next door at Leithold's for a guitar lesson. My instructor, Ed Faas, would smell my breath and knew where I'd been.
  7. Coney Island of Lacrosse
    Report Abuse
    Coney Island of Lacrosse - July 22, 2012 9:34 am
    Wow! What a great article! We are so excited to be celebrating 90 years! Thank you so much Steve! Come like us on facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Coney-Island-Station-of-LaCrosse-Official-Page/115686801787283 and we will be posting coupons, contests, and 90 year anniversary specials!
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