By Carol Tannenhauser
Gray’s Papaya, on 72nd and Broadway, reopened for takeout and delivery on Wednesday, May 6th, at 8 a.m., after being closed for a month. It was the first time in the 47-year history of the legendary hot dog store that it had ever been closed. On the morning of the reopening, WSR spoke by phone to the owner, Rachael Gray. A light bulb went off. That’s why it’s called Gray’s Papaya!
“Gray is our last name,” Rachael explained. “It’s a family owned and operated business and has been since we started in 1974. Actually, I was five years old when my husband started the business,” she laughed, “47 years ago in this same location. He had been in the financial business and had enough of that and wanted to work for himself and loved hot dogs, so he opened a hot dog store and the rest is history.”
Is there any relationship between Gray’s Papaya and the Upper East Side’s Papaya King?
“Originally, my husband, Nicholas Gray, was a Papaya King. He was a Papaya King for two years and then Papaya King didn’t want to renew the contract, so he went off on his own and became Gray’s Papaya. I took over running the business three years ago. He’s 83, so he doesn’t get to the stores very often anymore. Bit of an age difference between Nick and I! We have been together for 31 years and married for 24. We are very proud of our relationship and marriage! He is and will always be the love of my life. Our twins, Rufus and Tessa, are turning 16 next month.”
Why is Gray’s Papaya such an icon?
“Cheap prices, a good product, and so many years in one location,” Rachel replied.
How do they keep the prices down?
“Volume, strictly volume. You’ve got to sell a lot of hot dogs.”
To that end, they have specials.
“We’re offering a Recession Special, our longest running special, we’ve had it for 35 years. It’s two hot dogs and a medium drink, for all frontline health care workers and doctors — they come and they eat for nothing. All they have to do is show ID. And there’s the Frontliner Special. Anyone who gets any three hot dogs gets a fourth one free.”
Gray’s Papaya applied for a government PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan, but has not heard back yet.
“We’re still working on it, but we’re going to try to do it without any loans,” Rachel said. ”Our biggest expense is rent. The PPP loans don’t cover a lot of rent. We’re going to give it a couple of weeks to get our legs back under us. We’ll have a better idea in two weeks how we’re going to do.
“In truth, I didn’t ever really want to close, but realized it was the right thing to do for our staff and our customers,” Rachael concluded. “Now, we decided we made it over the peak of this crisis, and we’re allowed to be open, so our staff got a level of comfort and I got a level of comfort and we felt it was just time. We wanted to get back out here and open our doors for New Yorkers.”
Gray’s Papaya is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. “If we see the demand, we’ll resume 24 hours,” said Rex, the manager. Delivery is through Seamless and Grubhub. (212) 799-0243.
Gray’s Papaya has a second location on 8th Avenue and 40th Street. “We are planning on opening that one back up May 18th when there are a few more people in that area.”