DETROIT – Red Hots Coney Island, 12 Victor Street in Highland Park, MI, is celebrating its 100th anniversary on June 26, but may close by late July as the owner Richard Harlan and his wife Carol are ready to retire, the Detroit News (DN) reported on June 16, adding that “a 100-year-old family chili recipe will live on into the future.”
The restaurant “has survived many ups and downs, including depressions and recessions, the city's highs and lows, and yes, even the pandemic,” DN reported, noting that owner Harlan's “great uncle, a Greek immigrant who worked for Ford Motor Co., founded the restaurant and the chili recipe in 1921,” and “Harlan himself has been working there since he was a teenager in the late 1960s.”
Before he and his wife retire, they will celebrate the centennial of the family business with a “bash” on June 26, DN reported, adding that “Harlan said part of the reason the restaurant has been able to last so long is the customers.”
"Because families have brought their families in, and it’s been a continuation of that," he told DN, "I have many, many families that are third and fourth generation that still come into the restaurant."
Harlan “also credits Carol, who stepped in as a server when they lost one and he needed some help for a few weeks,” DN reported, noting “that was 20 years ago, and she's been helping serve coney dogs, sliders, chili fries and loose burgers ever since.”
“Their daughter Christina Coden will keep the chili sauce alive in retail form,” DN reported, adding that “after the party on June 26, Coden and her dad will start shopping the 16-ounce refrigerated tubs of all-natural Red Hots Coney Sauce to local grocers,” and “they've started selling bricks of the sauce — which can be used on hot dogs, nachos, fries or just eaten by the bowl — to local restaurants, too.”
“Red Hots Chili Sauce uses real onions and garlic instead of powders, all ground chuck (no beef hearts) and there are no preservatives,” DN reported, noting that “because of a high-pressure packaging process, the refrigerated product will have a shelf life of around 10-12 months.”
Carol said that “it was important for Christina, who is the only other person besides Richard who even knows the recipe, to keep the chili going after they retire, and took it upon herself to make the move to retail,” DN reported.
"She knew one day that we would be closing the restaurant because it’s just too hard for Rich and I," Carol told DN, adding that "it was very important for Christina to have the chili recipe carry on."
The last day of business for Red Hots Coney Island might be in “late July, but nothing is set in stone yet,” DN reported, noting that “Richard says if he can find a buyer that wants to keep the name Red Hots, they have to serve their chili.”
"I’m willing to work with a new owner that comes in, I won’t walk off and leave them dry. I’ll stay and introduce him to customers so they’ll keep coming back," Harlan, who is nearing 70 years old, told DN, adding that “it’s hard for me to say I want to retire, it’s just it’s time."
"We’re definitely going out on our terms, not because of a pandemic," Carol told DN, noting that "we just kept going. If we shut the doors it’s on our terms, not because a pandemic shut us down."
Red Hots Coney Island’s 100th anniversary celebration takes place Saturday, June 25, 11 AM-4 PM, DN reported, adding that “ten bucks gets you all the coneys, Better Made chips and Vernors (or other pop) that you like. Commemorative T-shirts and beer will also be for sale at the tented, outdoor party.”
“We’ve got people coming in from Florida, California and other states… it’s for all the old-timers to come in and kibbutz about the old days,” Harlan told DN.
Red Hots Coney Island, 12 Victor Street in Highland Park, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM-3 PM. More information is available by phone: 313-868-0766 and online: redhotsconeyisland.com. Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/redhots1921.