DETROIT, MI – Charles “Chuck” Keros, the proprietor of the American Coney Island restaurant, who popularized the famed chili dog by expanding into the suburbs and shopping malls of Detroit, has died, Deadline Detroit reported on January 5. Keros was 88.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his daughter Grace Keros. He was buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit near his father, Greek immigrant Gust Keros “who invented the sausage dog topped with meat sauce, a food staple that has become synonymous with Detroit,” Deadline Detroit reported.
In 1917, Michigan became the first state in the union to ban alcohol, and Gust Keros took the opportunity to open a speakeasy and gambling parlor in the basement of his hat cleaning and shoe shine shop at Michigan Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard, Deadline Detroit reported, adding that “the coney dog was concocted to keep the hungry patrons eating and drinking.”
Chuck Keros was born in 1933, attended high school at University of Detroit Jesuit, then began his studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1950 to become a dentist. That same year shopping mall developer Alfred Taubman founded his real estate company.
Keros lost interest in dentistry and dropped out of the University of Michigan in 1952 to join his father in the restaurant business. Taubman began construction on the Northland Center Mall in Southfield also in 1952.
Keros and Taubman teamed up to open a series of diners in the malls, Deadline Detroit reported, adding that “it made both men wealthy.”
Keros’ heart, however, “was always in the Detroit shop,” Deadline Detroit reported, noting that “he continued to work the grill most afternoons, dressed in a suit and pressed shirt, a diamond on one finger, a turquoise stone on another; a two-tone Rolex on one hand, a ladling spoon in the other. He would later introduce chili fries, the loose burger, 24-hour dining. Always cash. Never credit.”
Keros “would end each day with one beer, one dog with everything, one loose burger and a call to his bookie,” Deadline Detroit reported, adding that “then it was home to tend to the kids. Unless of course, his pals came by.”
Among his friends were Mayor Coleman A. Young and news anchor Bill Bonds, Deadline Detroit reported, noting that “the three could often be seen drinking in the Coney Island late into the night,” and Keros “and actress Carol Channing would paint the town red whenever she was in town for a live show.”
Keros is survived by three daughters: Grace and Connie Keros, Angela Badra, stepson Chris Sotiropoulos, and five grandchildren. His former wife Anastasia Sotiropoulos passed away in 2016.
“Though he was acquainted with British royalty and friendly with American pop stars, Keros understood where he came from and where his bun was buttered,” Deadline Detroit reported, adding that “he was quick with a buck or a meal for a hungry man.”
Keros “never closed the store,” even during the most turbulent years including 1967, “when the city erupted in an orgy of fire and civil discontent, not in 1968, when it burned again in the wake of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King,” and “not in 1984, when hooligans ran wild, setting fires after the Tigers World Series win,” Deadline Detroit reported.
Keros retired in 1990 and the company is now run by his daughter Grace Keros and son Chris Sotiropoulos.
“Keros’ funeral cortege was escorted by a phalanx of Detroit police officers who blocked off the downtown intersections around the restaurant so that the King might make a final loop, Deadline Detroit reported, noting that the Keros family made a stop for a hot dog and beer in his honor at the store and “even the guys from Lafayette Coney Island next door came in with their eyes down, their hands out, offering the family a kind and sincere acknowledgement.”
May his memory be eternal.