On the Town
For 50 years now, Frank Nudo, proprietor of Nick's Famous Coney Island at 3746 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., has come in early every morning to cook Coney Island sauce.
After that, he'd probably sit at the counter to read the sports section, rising occasionally to poke at the ingredients in the big aluminum pot on the stove.
Or maybe drink a little coffee with friends from the old neighborhood, stopping by to say hello.
And before you knew it, it was time for lunch again at one of Portland's most likable, and improbable, landmarks.
Stop by any day and chances are good you'll see one or more of the city's movers and shakers, wedged in among the neighborhood regulars.
Every mayor from Terry Schrunk to the current incumbent has eaten at Nick's, every governor from Vic Atiyeh to Ted Kulongoski.
Why, just the other day megadeveloper Homer Williams stopped by for a double Coney, at 7 bucks a pop. Parked his limo right out front.
But if you haven't been in for a while yourself, you'd better do so soon. Because as Frank would like everybody to know, he's selling the place and retiring. He'll be gone April 1.
• • •
I'm not the only member of this noble profession who's spilled buckets of ink on Nick's Famous Coney Island and its irrepressible owner. Newspaper clippings, some dating back to the '60s, cover the walls - along with all the sports memorabilia so dear to Nudo's heart. In case you haven't noticed, he's a Yankee fan.
'There's nothing up there that I don't like,' Nudo says. Which means his philosophy on selecting sports memorabilia is in keeping with everything else he does.
Because if there's one thing about him, it's that he'll tell you exactly what he's thinking - and usually at the top of his voice so he can be heard over the clamor of the TV and the crowd.
Which, come to think of it, is probably why the powerful drop in on Nick's every so often - to get a taste of reality when everyone else seems to be shining them on.
• • •
One thing for sure, though, it's been quite a trip for a poor boy from Garlic Gulch, as the old Italian neighborhood around Southeast 20th Avenue and Division Street used to be called.
After Hosford Elementary and Cleveland High, it was two years in the Army. Then a job driving a truck for the post office.
'And I would have retired there,' Nudo says, 'except I hurt my back. Best job I ever had.'
So in 1958 he got a job working for Dominic Carlascio, who started Nick's back in the '30s. Since that day - Nudo took over when Carlascio retired two years later - he's been making Coney sauce every morning.
But don't be too worried about what the 73-year-old Nudo is going to do with himself now that he's no longer gainfully employed. As it happens, when the building in which Nick's is located (along with four other retail outlets) came up for sale about 25 years ago, Nudo bought it.
And now that it's time to retire, he's selling. He won't say to whom or for exactly how much. That'll be public in the next few days, anyway.
'Just let me put it this way,' he says with a big smile: 'You're looking at a millionaire.'