Frank Nudo, former owner of Nick’s Famous Coney Island, dies at 83
For 48 years, Frank Nudo was Portland’s Coney King. As the owner of the Hawthorne District’s Nick’s Famous Coney Island restaurant and bar, he dished up fully loaded hot dogs, beer, and political and sports talk to a parade of Oregon politicians, local athletes and celebrities, and everyday working men.
Nudo, who retired from the business in 2008, passed away on Nov. 11. He was 83.
Nick Carlascio opened the restaurant in 1932, and sold it to Nudo in 1960. Nudo, who had worked there for a few years, vowed that he wouldn’t change the no-frills business, and over more than four decades he kept the menu simple, the portions large, and the banter friendly.
A meal at Nick’s was as much about the vibe as the food. The restaurant’s walls were covered with photos and drawings of Nudo’s sports heroes, many of them New York Yankees, with a few Trail Blazers thrown into the mix. The walls and booths were steeped in the smell of decades of burgers, hot dogs and chili sauce. And ceiling tiles were stained with decades of cigarette smoke. When the neighborhood went from gritty to upscale in the 1990s and 2000s, Nick’s was like a time portal to a long-gone Portland.
More than anything, Nick’s was Nudo’s court, where he was known to greet customers by name, and served every Oregon governor since Vic Atiyeh and every Portland mayor since Terry Schrunk at least once until he retired. Other famous customers included Robert Kennedy, Oregon football star Joey Harrington, and actor Richard Dreyfuss.
Local artist Nene Bradley painted a portrait of Nudo in 1977, which featured a distinctive handlebar mustache he wore that the time, along with the label “Coney King.” The portrait still hangs in the restaurant.
After Nudo sold Nick’s to new owners in 2008, they closed it for seven months to give it a deep cleaning and some equipment updates. When the restaurant reopened the next year, Nudo’s legacy was honored with Frank Nudo day, which gave longtime customers a chance to wish him well and see how he was doing.
One regular asked him if he still ate hot dogs. “I don’t want to see another hot dog the rest of my life, except at a Mariner’s game,” Nudo said.
That’s the sort of frank talk Nudo was known for. It didn’t take much prompting to get him to weigh in on the current Yankees roster, the gentrification of the Hawthorne District, or favorite singers like Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond.
“I haven’t been this goddamn happy since I got outta the Army,” he told a customer at the time of his retirement. “What have I got to be sad about?”
Nudo was born on Oct. 4, 1934, in Stanfield, Oregon. His parents, Elizabeth and Frank Nudo Sr., were immigrants from Calabria, Italy, and Nudo was the youngest of eight children. After his father’s death, his mother moved the family Southeast Portland’s Division Street neighborhood. Nudo attended Hosford Grade School and Cleveland High School. After graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1954, and was stationed in Fort Ord in California. After an honorable discharge in 1957, he returned to Portland and went to work for Carlascio at Nick’s.
He married Katy O’Rourke, and they had one son, Danny Nudo.
Nudo was preceded in death by his wife and son. He is survived by his sister, Gena Cummings; daughter-in-law, Kelly Nudo; two grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.