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Wiener Take All

From coneys blanketed in cheese, relish, mustard, chili, onion or jalapeno to Greek staples, Jim’s Coney Island has earned life-long followers thanks to unique concoctions and a family bond.

Article
Rob Harmon
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
April 29, 2017

Five years after the Nazis were defeated by the Allies in World War II, one of Tulsa’s most beloved pastimes began. Katina and Jim Bouakadakis, immigrants to Tulsa from the small Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, opened up their first Jim’s Coney Island in downtown Tulsa.

In the late-1960s, after being inspired at a Greek Festival in Tulsa, Jim added Greek recipes to the menu. This is when the name of the restaurant was officially changed to Jim’s Coney Island and Never on Sunday Greek Restaurant. The 19th and Harvard location has continued the tradition that is still going.

For generations, families have visited the restaurant for the famous Coney Island hot dog or a piping hot plate of Greek cuisine. Not much of the restaurant has changed, and that goes for the people serving the food from behind the counter. The founder’s grandson and current owner, Billy Pagonis, has happily served patrons for 23 of the restaurant’s 67-year history. 

Pagonis says he’s inspired to see generations of customers come in for a bite.

“Families bring in their children, and I’ve seen them move away and come back, bringing their children. I’ve watched the children grow up and bring in their children. It feels good. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known. We still make everything from scratch,” Pagonis says, pointing to an enormous boiling pot of chili. “This pot’s been here as long as I can remember. I do believe it’s one of his original pots,” he says, referring to his grandfather, Jim.

Chicken Oreganato (Photo: Marc Rains)
Chicken Oreganato (Photo: Marc Rains)

Pagonis’s grandfather, who served in World War II with the Greek Army, was excited to leave the historic restaurant to his children and grandchildren.

“We’re still using the original recipes,” says Pagonis. “We haven’t changed anything. We still follow them and I think that’s the best way. He was successful with it, might as well not change anything. I’ve added my few little touches, added a couple baked potatoes. I make my own seasoning for the chicken and marinate it overnight.”

The restaurant’s founder, Pagonis says of his grandfather, was always a cook, but like any good Oklahoman, was also a fisherman. “He fished on the side,” Pagonis says. “It was his passion outside of the restaurant.”

Fish isn’t necessarily on the menu, but their famous Coney Island hot dogs are as well as a few different kinds of Greek-style chicken dishes, souvlaki, baked potatoes and yeros.

One of Jim's Coney Island's customers comes in from Arizona, picks up 10 pints of chili, and then goes back to Arizona. (Photo: Marc Rains)
One of Jim's Coney Island's customers comes in from Arizona, picks up 10 pints of chili, and then goes back to Arizona. (Photo: Marc Rains)

A regular coney, always sold at a special low price on Tuesdays, is a hot dog sandwich in a toasted bun, smothered with chili, mustard, and onions. Relish, jalapenos and cheese can be added with any combination. They’ll make it just the way you like it. A kraut dog is also available.

The Chicken Oreganato, their most popular chicken dish, is seasoned with lemon, oregano, garlic and other herbs and spices that make the Never on Sunday menu superbly unique. However, the other chicken dish called the Baba’s chicken, used only when they sell out of the regular chicken dishes, is becoming just as much a request. The Baba’s chicken is seasoned with all the traditional Greek seasoning as well as Pagonis’s additional touches.

The restaurant’s flavorful souvlaki — a juicy, marinated chicken and rice dish — is served with green beans and a garden salad. It is a simple but satisfying meal that is affordably priced, as are all the menu items.

At any given time you can expect to be serenaded by a singer playing an acoustic guitar from a corner of the restaurant. You’ll see the broadest range of patron types when visiting the restaurant, too.

“It ranges from the lowest pay grade to the most upper class customer that comes in here,” Pagonis says. “It’s diverse all the way through. Landscapers, attorneys, insurance groups, you’ll see it all. On Tuesdays, the $1.20 coneys bring a ton of people in. It’s something they can still afford.”

Businesses love using the restaurant to feed their employees lunch for the day at a reasonable price. Some people come in for the healthy options for the fitness conscious.

“We have a lot of people that like to eat the shish kabob, which is a pork tenderloin kabob," he says. "We can give a healthy option choice with a salad. We can do half salad, half another option. We also have a vegetarian plate which is a spinach pie. We try to serve to people however they want. If they want no rice, anything starch-wise, we will accommodate them.”

Customers who grew up on Jim’s Coney Island that have moved away from Tulsa, or business travelers that have frequented the place, make it a priority to come back for more of the restaurant’s savory food.

“We’ve got a guy that still comes in from Texas,” says Pagonis. “He stops by and picks up 30 coneys. He has me individually wrap them, puts them on ice, takes them home and eats them. I’ve sent them to Philadelphia and Colorado. I have a lady who comes in from Arizona who gets 10 pints of chili, puts them in a cooler and takes them back so she has her chili. So, yes, we have a lot of repeat customers from all-around.” 

LOCATOR
Jim's Coney Island
1923 S. Harvard Ave. | Tulsa
918-744-9018
jimsconeyisland.net
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

March 2019 Cover