Nicholas Gray, Founder Of Gray's Papaya, Dead At 86

Nicholas Gray, the man behind one of New York City's greatest culinary institutions, has died at the age of 86. Gray launched his food empire in the 70s with Gray's Papaya, a late-night hot dog stand, which offers up the iconic New York hot dogs with an array of tropical fruit drinks. The combination has proven to be irresistible for New Yorkers (and its many visitors) ever since.

Born in Chile in 1937, Gray studied in England and attended McGill University in Canada before making his way to the United States, but it took some time before he discovered his passion for food. In fact, Gray worked in two other quintessential New York City industries — on the production side of Broadway and as a stockbroker on Wall Street — before becoming an iconic restaurant operator. 

Gray opened a franchised location of Papaya King in 1973, but when Gray's contract with the company ended two years later, he decided to go out on his own. He set up shop at the now legendary corner of Broadway and 72nd Street in New York City's Upper West Side. In 1975, Gray created a sensation by slashing his prices and offering a 50-cent deal for a hot dog — a significant discount since the going rate at the time was 75 cents. Customers came in droves to try it out for themselves.

Gray changed the NYC food scene

After that initial pricing special, Gray's Papaya became known as one of the best food deals in the city, a moniker the entrepreneur regularly proved by offering serious discounts and specials throughout the restaurant's history. In 1982, Gray responded to the country's economic hard times with the Recession Special – two hot dogs and a drink for only $1.95. He offered several such promotions over the years, but it was also the quality of the all-beef hot dog that contributed to Gray's enduring success.

The business that Gray built has attracted legions of fans over the years, including celebrities like socialite Nicky Hilton, actor Samuel L. Jackson, and food personality Anthony Bourdain. Gray's Papaya has also appeared in such films as "You've Got Mail" and on such TV shows as "Sex and the City" and "Billions." At the peak of his business's success, Gray operated several locations, but rising rents eventually led to their closure. Today only the original Broadway and 72nd Street location remains.

In his later years, Gray faced some health issues, and when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, his second wife Rachel stepped up to run the business.  Complications from this illness ultimately led to Gray's death in May 2023, but his family has pledged to continue to run Gray's Papaya, serving its famous hot dogs and drinks to New York City.