Nicholas Gray, 86, dies; Pairing hot dogs with papaya creates landmark

Nicholas Gray, founder of Gray’s Papaya, the storefront hot dog stand whose culinary eccentricities, competitive prices, clever taglines and apparent invariance have endeared New Yorkers young and old, died Friday in a Manhattan hospital. rich and poor. He is 86 years old.

The cause was a complication of Alzheimer’s disease, his daughter Natasha Gray said.

Pastrami on rye, bagels and lox, two classic pairings of New York cuisine, have an unspoken logic. Instead, papaya juice and hot dogs are Gray’s Papaya’s specialty and seem to be favorites of different — perhaps opposing — sociocultural groups.

Yet this odd couple has gained an Original Ray’s Pizza-like edge in the local restaurant scene. In addition to the two main vendors, Gray’s Papaya on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Papaya King on the Upper East Side, establishments that sell hot dogs and papaya juice in New York include 14th Street Papaya, Chelsea Papaya, Empire Papaya, Papaya International, Papaya World, Papaya World II, Papaya Paradise and Papaya Paradise.

By most accounts, the duo originated in the 1930s, when New York deli owner Constantine Poulos, who favored tropical vacations, started selling juices from seemingly exotic fruits. (some have describe The business was New York’s first juice bar. ) in later years, adding hot dogs to his menu and crowning his Upper East Side store, Papaya King.

One day in 1973, Mr. Gray, a recently divorced Wall Street stockbroker dissatisfied with his job before the combination of papaya and frankfurters was a local phenomenon, walked past Papaya King on East 86th Street and Third Avenue.

It was full of happy people. The tropical juice reminded him of his native Chile. Bright neon signs and hot dogs illustrate his penchant for Americana.

He quit his job and signed a franchise deal with Papaya King, opening a location on 72nd Street and Broadway on the Upper West Side. Two years later, he went independent and named his restaurant Gray’s Papaya.

Soon enough, his knockoffs themselves were eliminated.

These variants tend to share basic characteristics. Like an espresso bar in Italy, Papaya has no seating; you stand and chew. In the milder months, with the doors perpetually open to the breeze and the honking of cars, it’s as if the restaurant is an extension of the sidewalk. Hot dogs are cooked on a pan, not in what a hot dog cart calls dirty water. Papaya drinks are often chalky and don’t taste like papaya, but a mild papaya flavor.

If the Papaya King had the heritage and brand recognition of the Yankees, Gray’s Papaya was the Mets, a sloppy expansion team. It’s become a destination for after-school snacks, a quick bite before a show at Lincoln Center, a meal on the go during the week, and a treat after a romp in Central Park.

The store announces its opening, and the hot dog hoi polloi has good news: 50 cents for a hot dog, compared with 75 cents at Papaya King. (The price is still 50 cents until 1999). In 1982, Mr. Gray began offering what he called a recession special: two dogs and a glass of tropical juice for $1.95. This bargain, which has withstood several recessions, is now on sale for just $6.45.

He hates raising prices. “It’s always been very painful for me and the client,” he said. Tell The New York Times in 2008. He once put up a sign that read: “We are being strangled by skyrocketing food costs. Unlike politicians, we cannot raise the debt ceiling and are forced to raise very reasonable prices. Please don’t hate us.”

This logo and many others give the restaurant a quirky yet insistent tone. After opening the doors, Mr. Gray put up a sign he made himself that read, “Hot Dog Revolution!” The storefront promised “Nobody But Nobody Serves Better Frankfurters” and “No Gimmicks! No Bulls! The signs inside will be Papaya is identified as “Tropical Noble Melon”.

The billboard promotes Mr Gray’s political views. “Hold on Mr. President,” a caution Bill Clinton facing impeachment in 1998. In 2007, Mr Gray Commitment “Free hot dogs on Inauguration Day” if Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg runs for president next year and wins. Mr Gray’s public stance, however opinionated, has always been positive. Gray’s Papaya sells buttons that read “Polite New Yorkers.”

Decades after its founding, Gray’s Papaya has become a New York institution.

“Rent stabilization is as indelible a part of New York life as Gray’s Papaya,” Nora Ephron wrote In The New Yorker in 2006. “It can never be tampered with.”

Nicholas Alexander Buchanan Gray Anguita was born January 17, 1937 in Valparaíso, Chile. His father, Alexander, was a British bank manager sent abroad by his employer. His mother, Nieves (Anguita) Gray, was a native Chilean homemaker.

Nick attended Sherborne School in south-west England, and after graduating he worked dishes washing dishes at a radar station in the Arctic Circle to earn money for university.

While attending McGill University in Montreal, he met Patricia Osterman, a student at Syracuse University. The two dropped out of college, married and started a family on the Upper West Side.

Patricia’s father, Lester Osterman, is a Broadway producer who helped manage his productions before working on Wall Street. By 1975, Mr. Gray and his wife were divorced.

He also ran a Gray’s Papaya location in Greenwich Village from 1987 to 2014 and opened two locations on Eighth Avenue in Midtown, the last of which closed in 2021.

Commercial Rent Rise annihilate Many papaya shops.Together with the original Gray’s position and new relocation Papaya King is about to open on Third Avenue, New York retains Papaya Dog on West 4th Street, Chelsea Papaya on West 23rd Street and Len’s Papaya at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in the Financial District.

In 1989, a fraternity brother of Mr. Gray from McGill told his daughter Rachael Eberts, an incoming architecture student at Parsons School of Design, to visit Mr. Gray when she arrived in New York. They married in 1996.

In addition to his daughter Natasha, Mr Gray is survived by his wife. Another daughter from his first marriage, Sheila Gray; a daughter and a son from his second marriage, Tessa and Rufus Gray; sister Robina Pereira; and a granddaughter .

Mr. Gray lived most of the time in the block across from the Gray Papaya, most recently in the Garment District.

Rachael Gray helps run Gray’s Papaya and took over the place when her husband’s Alzheimer’s progressed. 18-year-old twins Tessa and Rufus are sometimes behind the counter, especially in the summer.

As for the future, “Long live Gray’s Papaya,” Ms. Gray said in a telephone interview. The store has a friendly relationship with its longtime landlord, with several years left on the lease, which the family plans to renew.

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