Historic NYC hot dog restaurant Papaya King may soon show up all down the East Coast as it preps for yet another attempt at national expansion.
The icon known for a combination of tropical drinks and hot dogs has inked a new franchise deal with QSR Franchise Development Group, a move that could lead to 20 new stores from New York down to Florida, owner Wayne Rosenbaum tells Eater. It’s the second franchise agreement that Rosenbaum has dove into over the past two years: In 2016, he partnered with Fransmart, the same company behind the Halal Guys’ expansion, but after just six months, the deal fell through.
Rosenbaum says he’s eyeing venues like food halls, airports, and university campuses in which shrunken, “express versions” of his restaurant could live. The original Upper East Side storefront at 86th Street and Third Avenue is 600 square feet, but future franchise locations could be a third of that. Smaller storefronts make the brand “more enticing to a lot of franchisees,” he says.
Smaller footprints help shrink operating costs and boost profits for investors, says QSR founder Steven Gardner, but regular-sized stores will still be in play. The focus will first lie in the Northeast, though other markets like Florida and Los Angeles are also on the map, Gardner says.
In line with the expansion, Rosenbaum is now freshening up Papaya King’s juice menu with the addition of “green juices,” a change he says comes in response to customer feedback. The UES store will soon have a rolling juice bar where passersby can pick up pre-packaged drinks. “I want to capture the juice crowd in the morning,” he says.
Gardner says the goal is to reintroduce the brand in the market in a “retro way,” using social media and other marketing strategies to appeal to a younger generation that isn’t aware of Papaya King’s long history. “It’s been a really neglected brand for a number of years,” he adds.
QSR is also working with Fresh & Co, which has opened more than a dozen units across Manhattan over the past six months, according to Gardner. If this Papaya King deal pans out, about 15 to 20 locations may sprout along the East Coast, which Gardner says is a “definitely reasonable” goal for his first year with the brand. It may sound ambitious, but seems far more attainable than the previous franchise deal with Fransmart, whose CEO Dan Rowe envisioned as many as 1,000 locations across North America.
Papaya King has been around since the 1930s, although it was first known as “Hawaiian Tropical Drinks,” New York’s first juice bar. Hot dogs were added later, and the classic combination rose in popularity to the point that Julia Child declared it the best hot dog in NYC. The business dabbled with franchising several times over its lifespan, expanding and contracting around NYC and beyond to San Francisco, Miami, Baltimore, and Hawaii. In 2001, a store even debuted at the University of Pennsylvania, but it closed three years later.
Rosenbaum became an owner in 2010, and has played with ways to revive the brand since, such as adding nachos, a foot-long Frank, and veggie burger to the menu at an East Village outpost that has since closed. Now, he has just a single location, the original storefront in the UES.