James Coney Island’s final inner-loop store shut down earlier this week. The news of the closure was quiet but shouldn’t come as a huge surprise for anyone who has been following the slow death of the chain. While JCI managed to hang on past the Millennium, it seems very little has been invested in the hot dog seller over the past 20 years. With locations stagnant and sales slipping, a 2018 initiative to push the chain away from Hot Dogs began. Local chef, Matt Marcus, was brought on board to help reimagine non-hot dog menu items, and a new name and exterior theming were given to the restaurants. The JCI Grill name never really caught on, and while some serious money was spent on the outside, nothing was done to the interior of the restaurants. Still utilizing a cafeteria-style serving line, despite your food almost always being brought to you. JCI managed to do alright over the next few years limping along until 2021 when stores suddenly began to close. While it’s unclear exactly what jumpstarted these closures, the pandemic undoubtedly had an effect. Over the past year, three more stores shut down in favor of leasing the locations to Cabo Bob’s. In an interview with CultureMap, JCI President Darrin Straughan mentioned that the company wasn’t going away, rather focusing on smaller footprint locations with drive-thrus. Mr. Straughan, who has been President of JCI for over ten years now, was very candid that the company made good real estate decisions in the 90s and was now profiting by selling them. The South Shepherd location was trialed as a to-go and drive-thru-only location before shutting down, but even this was not enough to battle the overhead costs of a building that size.
While the chain is down to only 11 locations, they don’t have any explicit plans to shut down operations in the near future. While Mr. Straughan mentioned building new stores in his interview, the idea was not expanded upon. He did, however, mention that the company would be “pivoting” and that there existed many people interested in keeping the brand alive. This could be a possible hint toward franchising new units or possibly even existing ones. Culturemap also reported that at present, three current JCI locations are being offered for lease 3803 Spencer Highway, 12500 East Freeway, and 4200 North Freeway. These locations are being offered as Second-Gen restaurants, meaning that the new tenant would be able to keep everything inside and likely not be able to complete major remodeling. While, at this point, it’s not evident what exactly James Coney Island’s future will be, changes are in store.