By Carol Tannenhauser
Nicholas Gray, 86, founder of Gray’s Papaya, a culinary and cultural institution on 72nd Street and Broadway, died last Friday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, The New York Times reported. Gray opened his famous hot dog spot in 1973 — almost exactly 50 years ago — first as a franchise of the Upper East Side’s Papaya King, then going off on his own. The store hasn’t closed its doors since — except for one month during the pandemic shutdown. Shortly after it reopened in May 2020, WSR spoke by phone with Mr. Gray’s wife of 27 years, Rachael Gray. She recalled the history of the store and her life with “Nick.”
“Actually, I was five years old when my husband started the business,” she laughed. “Bit of an age difference between Nick and me. 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. 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 [in 2017]….I’m very proud of our relationship and marriage! Nick is and will always be the love of my life.”
Nicholas Gray was born on Jan. 17, 1937, in Valparaiso, Chile, where his father had been transferred from England. He attended boarding school in England, and McGill University in Montreal. He has four children — daughters, Sheila and Natasha, from his first marriage, and twins, Rufus and Tessa, turning 19, from his marriage to Rachael Gray. He also leaves behind a sister and a granddaughter.
As for the future of Gray’s Papaya, it’s not going anywhere, Rachael Gray told the Times. It has a good landlord and years left on its lease, which it plans to renew. “Long Live Gray’s Papaya,” she said.
Don’t miss Robert Beck’s essay and painting about Gray’s Papaya, here.
Correction: Nicholas Gray had four children, not three as we originally reported. We regret that we left out Natasha, one of two daughters from his first marriage.