New York City is one of the few places that pair hot dogs with, of all things, papaya drinks, and its story goes back to a Greek immigrant and his crush on a young lass in the Upper East Side German neighborhood of Yorkville.
In 1923, Gus Poulos arrived penniless in America and began working in a local deli. Becoming an owner after three years and working hard for several more, he took his first vacation in Miami and discovered his love for papaya. Gus figured out how to bring tropical fruits back to the Big Apple and opened up “Hawaiian Tropical Drinks”, Manhattan’s first juice bar in 1932. While business was slow at first, the drinks swiftly gained popularity after Gus hired hula skirt-clad waitresses to pass out samples on the corner.
Gus married his papaya love with another love. Wanting to impress a girl named Birdie, Gus fell while showing off a new pair of roller skates. As he recuperated from his spill, Birdie nursed Gus back his ol’ self with German food from neighborhood restaurants. Presumably one of those dishes involved frankfurters, and the rest is history.
Since then, Papaya King has expanded and other copycat businesses have proliferated using the word papaya in its name (Papaya Dog and Frank’s Papaya, to name a few). Alex Poulos, Gus’ son, recently sold the chain to a catering business and since then, Papaya King has updated its logo and expanded its offerings. Is it still the same Papaya King? In all honesty, I prefer the snap of the weiners from this place, but only Papaya King can claim to be the original Papaya that started a lasting tradition in New York City fast food.
Papaya King, 179 East 86th Street & 3rd Avenue.