Game on! Checkers coming to Coney

Game on! Checkers coming to Coney
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A national fast-food chain wants to get the jump on Brooklyn homegrown eateries coming to Coney Island — where it will spark a neighborhood burger war and take a stab at a hot dog giant that made the People’s Playground famous.

Checkers — the Florida-based company that serves Big Buford and Baconzilla burgers, as well as three varieties of hot dogs — says it will open an eatery on Surf Avenue in a bid to wrestle business from the growing number of restaurants coming to Coney Island as well as Nathan’s Famous, which opened on the Boardwalk in 1916 and will be expanding on the historic walkway this year.

But mom-and-pop restaurateurs say they plan to make chop meat out of the corporate patty purveyor.

“I’ll put my hamburger up against anybody,” said Jimmy Kokotas, the owner of the legendary Prospect Heights diner Tom’s Restaurant, who’s opening a Boardwalk outpost that will serve up $5 flame-broiled burgers made from fresh ground beef.

Nathan’s Famous fans shrugged off news that Checkers will be coming to the amusement district as well.

“Checkers may be on Nathan’s turf but their hot dogs won’t be able to compete with Nathan’s,” said George Shea, who runs the Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest each year. “The Nathan’s hot dog is a touchstone to what it is to be an American and certainly a Brooklynite.”

Many predict that Coney’s faithful won’t cozy up Checkers, which is known for its bright red logo and sells grilled burgers made from frozen beef patties that cost between $1 and $5.

“It’s hard to compete with someone who uses frozen food,” said Zito’s Sandwich Shoppe co-owner Marcello Bucca, who’s bringing a gourmet hoagie hub to a former carny game booth on Jones Walk near Bowery Street. “I think people will see that and come to us instead.”

But the burger chain’s new location at the foot of the Stillwell Avenue subway station — which is a stone’s throw from the beach, Nathan’s, Luna Park, and the Scream Zone — could make it a popular destination with visitors to the historic amusement district.

Checkers spokeswoman Jennifer Durham said the empty storefront it scooped up will make for an ideal fast-food restaurant.

“We looked at a lot of different things such as traffic flow and the surrounding residential population,” Durham said.

Some neighborhood boosters pointed out that Nathan’s, which is also a chain restaurant, has flourished in Coney Island for decades — and hailed Checkers’ decision to move onto Surf Avenue.

“It’s not a unique Brooklyn business, but it’s still a wonderful addition,” said Dick Zigun, the man behind Sideshows by the Seashore. “Every nook and cranny of Coney Island is being gobbled up right now. There’s real momentum.”

Several popular Brooklyn restaurants have staked a claim in Coney Island since Central Amusements International was tapped to remake the area into a year-round tourist destination.

Restaurants opening in Coney Island include Tom’s Restaurant, DUMBO icon Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and Cha-Cha’s Coney Island Seafood Bar and Pizzeria.

Checkers has opened seven locations across Brooklyn since 2009, including ones on Court Street at Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights, and Havemeyer Street near Broadway in Williamsburg.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.