Papaya King is the original. Accept no imitations. Since 1932, we have been serving our special recipe, one-of-a-kind franks and tropical drinks to New Yorkers and visitors of all ages and from all walks of life at our original 86th Street location. We have a passion for freshness, quality, flavor & fun. We cook your franks while facing you so that we can see each other’s smiles (and because it’s rude to have you stare at our backs). Our franks look pretty damn good on the grill. Julia Child said we served the "best hot dogs in New York" and Martha Stewart named us one of her “guilty pleasures.” But it’s not just the franks and tropical drinks that make Papaya King special. It’s the people. From policemen to politicians, celebrities to construction workers, firefighters to financiers, Papaya King is where people come together to share a moment while rubbing elbows at the counter. Today, we are taking Papaya King beyond 86th Street with a new location at 3 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd Ave.) in the East Village. Lick your lips, New York - there's more to come! We’ll see you soon.
In the Beginning
In 1923, a 16-year-old Greek boy named Gus Poulos arrived at the docks of Ellis Island from Athens, Greece. Alone in a big city. No friends. No family. No money. Full of energy and ambition. Gus quickly immersed himself in the Roaring 20's and began his journey toward the American Dream. Within three years, Gus went from working at a deli in the Yorkville section of Manhattan to owning it.
After years of hard work, Gus was able to take his first vacation and he set his sights on the sunny beaches of Miami where he fell in love with the plentiful supply of papaya, The Aristocratic Melon of the Tropics.
When he got back to New York, Gus went looking for his beloved papayas but none could be found. Florida was a world away by train and as a result most tropical fruits were completely unknown to New Yorkers. In 1931, after figuring out how to get fresh fruit to New York, Gus sold his deli and opened his first tropical juice store (and the first juice bar in New York) called Hawaiian Tropical Drinks.
Brilliant idea. But no one came. The store piled high with perishable tropical fruit and Gus decided that if he couldn't sell his drinks, he would give them away so that his cherished fruit wouldn’t go to waste. He hired waitresses to dress up in hula skirts and had them stand on the corner handing out free drinks while Gus worked his magic behind the blender.
Franks and papaya meet at last
It didn't take long for New Yorkers to get hooked on the drinks (OK, the girls in hula skirts didn’t hurt!) Long lines formed outside his store and the legend of his papaya drinks spread like wildfire. In 1935, he opened another store in Brooklyn, and in 1937, he set up his third shop in Philadelphia. He started serving fresh squeezed strawberry shakes and coconut drinks mixed with papaya juice. The birth of the smoothie as we know it! Despite his success, something was missing.
Gus' first store was on 86th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan (still there today), an area that was heavily populated with German and Polish immigrants at the time. One day while trying to impress a young German-American woman named "Birdie" on his newly purchased roller skates, Gus fell and badly injured his ankle. The young lass took pity on him and helped him through his recuperation which included bringing him food from the German restaurants in the neighborhood. Gus loved the food and his new girlfriend. After he and Birdie decided to marry, he introduced the frankfurter to his juice stand creating one of the most magical combinations of all time.
The Legend Grows
As the decades passed, Gus' fruit and frank stands grew in stature and reputation. Gus opened several more stores in New York and even opened restaurants as far away as Baltimore and Miami. Legend has it that a famous Brooklyn Dodger became addicted to Gus' fare and coined the name "Papaya King." The name stuck and customers began to refer to the stands as the "Papaya King" until Gus finally changed the name of his stand to Papaya King in the 1960’s.
Papaya King Today
Today, say the words "Papaya King" and franks and tropical drinks will instantly come to mind. Papaya King has been called by Zagat the "best, cheapest (stand-up) lunch in the city" and “more vital than the subway.” Critic Ed Levine of New York Eats calls it the "best hot dog in the world" and Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain both agree it’s the best hot dog in New York. Over the years, Papaya King has played host to movie stars, rock stars, presidents, business titans, and most importantly, New Yorkers and visitors from all walks of life.
In 2013, Papaya King embarked on a new chapter with the opening of its second location on St. Marks Place in the East Village. We are proud to share our magical combination with the world and look forward to another 80 years of deliciousness!