SIOUX CITY | On National Hot Dog Day, Matt Greer waited on a very unusual customer.
During the lunch rush that occurred on July 19, the Marketplace Coney Island owner took an order from what can only be described as a "Coney Dog newcomer."
"The young man asked what goes on a Coney Dog and I told him it's chili, mustard and onions," Greer said, behind the luncheon counter at 3013 Hamilton Blvd. "Since we've been making Coney Dogs the same way for nearly 100 years, I thought everybody would know our typical toppings."
It's true Greer has been adhering to a winning formula which has been around since 1918. That was the year when George Margeas opened the legendary Coney Island Hot Dog Shop in downtown Sioux City.
The original 510 Nebraska St. location was owned by George Margeas' son Steve until the latter Margeas' death on May 28. It is currently managed by Steve Margeas' widow Virginia.
However, the Marketplace Coney Island didn't open its doors until 1973. For many years, the hot dogger in charge of operation was Nick G. Margeas, the brother of Steve Margeas and the son George Margeas.
"George died very suddenly (in 2009) and Steve said the (Marketplace) store would close unless another buyer was found," Greer, a first-time restaurant owner, said. "That's when I stepped in."
Greer, a native Sioux Cityan, remembered all of the Saturday afternoons he spent going to the Opheum Theatre with his grandfather.
"I knew an afternoon with grandpa would mean a movie matinee followed by a chili dog at the downtown Coney Island," he recalled. "It became a ritual for us."
Indeed, it became a ritual for many generations of Sioux Cityans. Greer, a businessman with no prior food service experience, wanted to see the Marketplace Coney Island continue to thrive.
The first thing he did was spend a month shadowing Steve while picking up a few tricks of the trade.
"I discovered that the best tip is to keep things simple," he said. "The (Coney Island) hot dogs are a mix of beef and pork that's made exclusively for the shop, the onions are cut fresh and the chili has remained the same since the very beginning."
After all, you don't mess with perfection. At least for the most part.
Can you get Polish sausage at Coney Island? Yes. Loosemeat? Uh-huh. Chili cheese fries? Sure.
But can you get a fully loaded Chicago-style hot dog with tomato wedges, pickle spears and a few sports peppers? Nope, not as long as Greer is on the premises.
"We make Coney Dogs here," he insisted. "Our customers know what we do and like us for it."
This is why Greer regularly caters everything from graduation parties to wedding receptions. It's also the reason he ships Coney Dogs all over the country.
"Coney Island Coney Dogs have a distinctive taste," he said. "You can only get it from Sioux City."
It's been eight years since Greer, a former business sales representative, traded in a suit and tie for an apron.
"I wanted a life where I could be with family at the end of the day," he said. "Coney Island has given me that luxury.
"The great thing about Coney Island is that it's a happy place. It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by hot dogs."
As the National Hot Dog lunch rush subsided, Greer's "Coney Island newcomer" stopped by the ordering counter while thanking the chef.
"How was the Coney Dog?" Greer asked.
"It was awesome," the customer replied. "I'll be back for more."
This didn't surprise Greer one bit.
"That's the nice thing about Coney Dogs," he said. "Once we get you through our doors, you'll be hooked for life."