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.
RIP to Mr. Gray. Thank you for creating an UWS institution. Whether it is after a rough day at work, at the end of an incredible rock star night out or as a fun treat for the family during a day running around the neighborhood, Gray’s Papaya is always there for you.
RIP. An institution. I might go get a papaya dog right now!
RIP Mr. Gray & condolences to your family
Best dogs in NYC. Been eating there since the very start. A great institution that should never close. Keep up the great work and legacy Rachel.
Sorry I did not extend my sympathy to the family. Mr. Gray was a delight to meet (once or twice) and he will be remembered with a smile.
I always used to remark that the place never closed; ever. It was open at 3 in the morning, it was open during the blackout, it was open on 9/11, during hurricanes, even on Christmas,
I always questioned if there was even a lock on the door.
Long live Grays!
Sad to hear. He created a real UWS institution. When my kids’ friends would come to town for the first time, they would take them to Gray’s Papaya before any other of NYC’s landmarks. May it continue “forever.”
Very fond memories of going there with my daughter when she was young. Getting a dog and papaya, then going over to Needle Park to eat them, surrounded by daffodils. She is vegan now, but still A Polite New Yorker.
Sorry to hear this. I enjoyed Gray’s but I grew up in Paterson NJ and nothing could compete with their franks, sometimes called Texas Wieners. Paterson was a mecca for hot-dog lovers: Falls View, Libbey’s, Johnny and Hanges (the original one on River Street) and many more whose names I’ve forgotten. When I moved to the UWS I was glad to find Gray’s–it didn’t quite duplicate but perfectly sufficed and had its own character. I hope someone publishes a book of Robert Beck’s west side paintings. Now that I retired to Pasadena CA I’d love to have it for the memories.,
Never a disappointment. Always a treat. Hope you open one up “there”.
Thank you for having the vision and commitment to establish such a wonderful place – RIP.
Will stop by and have another dog to pay respects to Nicholas Gray. What a great UWS place!
My husband and I have come to pray at the temple of Gray’s Papaya for 38 years.
We will miss him. But will continue to buy the best damn dog in NYC at long as they’re serving them up. May his memory be a blessing.
I moved from the UWS a few years ago, but visit often.
1st stop, straight out of the 72nd Street Station, is Gray’s.
There is no other. I need my fix on a regular basis.
RIP Mr. Gray. Your legacy lives on.
When my two daughters went off to college, one to LA and and the other to England, the first thing they wanted when I picked them up from the airport was a Gray’s Papaya! And that’s been our tradition ever since. Gone, but not forgotten.