Coney Island Lunch
Tags: Berks Foods, Bob Ventura, Brooklyn, business, Coney Island Lunch, Connor McColligan, Grandma Barb, Jack and Ted Karampilas, location, New York City, Pete Ventura, South Scranton, Steve Karampilas, Texas wieners and burgers
With Pete Ventura at the grill and his brother Bob Ventura doing the prep work, Coney Island Lunch, has endured for over 50 years as downtown Scranton’s oldest restaurant. They maintain the tradition of making Texas wieners and burgers started by their grandfather Steve Karampilas, a Greek immigrant.
When Steve came to New York City in 1917, a priest introduced him to a Greek community in Brooklyn. Steve was given a job at a hot dog restaurant in the neighborhood. He was taught to make hot dogs the way they do in Greek restaurants– with mustard, onions and chili. Drawn by the city’s large Greek community, Steve moved to Scranton to create his own restaurant. In 1923, Steve opened a location on Cedar Ave, which became Coney Island Texas Lunch until 1988. There, he continued to make wieners and burgers the same way he learned in Brooklyn. “If you came in there and said you wanted a hot dog with no onions, he wouldn’t do it,” said Steve’s grandson Pete. “He would make them with everything.”
His sons Jack and Ted Karampilas joined Steve in the family business. Jack’s stepsons Pete and Bob Ventura started working in the restaurant at ages 13 (Bob) and age 11 (Pete). They started out as busboys and later became waiters. “We slowly learned every aspect of the place,” said Pete. After their grandfather died in 1972, Pete took over the night shift, and Bob took over cooking the chili sauce. To this day, the chili sauce is made from the same recipe that Steve created over 90 years ago. Pete and Bob maintained the same tastes originated 90 years earlier. They used to get their beef hot dogs from Schumacher’s Meat Market in South Scranton. After it went out of business, they started to use Berks Foods, a meat processor in Reading, PA.
In 1988, Pete and Bob moved the restaurant around the corner to Lackawanna Ave. The new location is still in the style of an old-fashioned diner. Its walls are filled with baseball memorabilia, such as bats, photos of stadiums and autographed pictures. There are also bobble head dolls of baseball players inside an old pie cooler.
The menu boasts more than Texas wieners and burgers. It is known for its comfort food. Fries, chicken fritters and fish sandwiches are also popular. The restaurant features two soups per day- one chicken and one special. Pete makes his own chili con carne and rice pudding from his Grandma Barb’s recipe.
People come to Coney Island Lunch to share conversations with Pete, Bob or the waitresses, who have worked there for many years. “People stick with us when they start working here,” said Pete. “It’s a good time. We have great customers.”
Although Pete is the main grill person, Bob cooks sometimes. “I have been in the restaurant business for 51 years,” said Bob. “That’s what I do.” Pete’s sons John Ventura and Mark McColligan, and grandson Connor McColligan, mark the fifth and sixth generation of Coney Island Lunch.
H –Ben Freda