Does a Hot Dog by Any Other Name Taste as Good? James Coney Island Is Now JCI Grill

Categories: Restaurant News

James Coney Island 005.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The Texas dogs topped with chili, cheese and minced onions are classics at James Coney Island.
Every restaurant goes through changes at one point or another, and it seems it's James Coney Island's turn to do so.

The famous Houston-based hot dog chain will no longer be known as James Coney Island. The restaurant has decided to change its name to JCI Grill in an attempt to re-brand itself. With 21 locations in Houston, this 90-year-old-establishment will have a new look starting today.

JCI Grill will feature made-to-order salads, burgers and sandwiches on its menu, as well as the staple hot dogs, fries, chili dogs and corn dogs.

"The term JCI has been a nickname for years," Darrin Straughan, president of JCI Grill, says. "We added the word 'grill' because of all of our new menu items we are offering."

Straughan says the new menu features three made-to-order salads, a roast beef dip that comes with a side salad, an Asian sandwich, more chicken sandwiches and gourmet hot dogs, similar to the ones in the Chefs and Show Dogs series.

"We have a build-your-own section and we are going to eliminate that and instead offer more dogs like we did with the Chefs and Show Dogs," Straughan says. "With that said, we are also going to do a main emphasis that we are going to divide our menu up and show our legacy items. In other words, there is going to be a section that highlights what brought us here -- our coneys, our chili, our frito pies and our Delaware punch. It's all going to be highlighted there -- these are our fan favorites, but then the other section of the menu is going to show, but if you don't want that, we have all of these grill offers for you."

While this is exciting news for the hot dog company, fans and customers have shown disdain for the name and brand change.

One commenter on the James Coney Island Facebook page says:

"Don't change the name! Whatever idiot told you that it would be a good idea is completely wrong!"

Another writes:

"Oh no! Please don't change the name. I have such fond memories of the Walker St. location and am a James Coney Island fan from way back. I wish you the best."

Many Houstonians grew up with James Coney Island and don't agree that a hot dog by any other name will taste as good.

Location Info

James Coney Island

5745 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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40 comments
Jeff Berlat
Jeff Berlat

So i guess people quit going to Kentucky Fried Chicken when they went to KFC? I don't think so....

Jared Meadors
Jared Meadors

yeah, the food quality there--which was never their strong suit--has continued to decline over the years. i think the general idea is that if every product you sell is basically covered with cheese and chili, that underlying products don't have to taste very good... and that's true up to a point... but if the cheese you use and the chili you use are also bland and cheap and plastic... well, that's a problem. the chili-cheese fries at Natachee's for example are amazing--stellar--a meal in and of themselves....

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Hard Rock Cafe becomes HRC Grill; Chili's becomes The C Grill; Sonic Drive-In becomes SDI Grill; Prince's Hamburgers becomes PH Grill, Souper Salad becomes SS Grill; Pass and Provisions becomes PaP Grill; Molina's Mexican Restaurant becomes MMR Grill; Cleburne's Cafeteria becomes CC Grill.

galen
galen

JCI.... all the warmth and hipness of an accounting firm

Weimarguy
Weimarguy

Some of the worst "food" in the city. Chili that has no taste. Onions that do not taste like onions. Cheese (?) out of an aerosal can.   I went to the downtown location when I was a kid (1950s) and it was bad then. The freshest item in those places is a bag of chips. So, who cares if they change the name? Still junk food.

Kelly Mitchell Parish
Kelly Mitchell Parish

I'm a native Houstonian and I almost always say JCI. Picked that up from my dad. At the end of the day...who cares JCI or James Coney Island...they still have the same awesome dogs and chili! The only difference now is they have additional menu offerings.

Mark M. Sarmiento
Mark M. Sarmiento

I guess it makes more sense. The menu seemed to have been expanding to other options than just hot dogs. The bigger question is, will the hot dog man logo now become a grill?

Mark M. Sarmiento
Mark M. Sarmiento

If it is just the name, then should be good. But don't be a JC Penney, change it to JCP and redo entire store and inventory.

JoseStrummer
JoseStrummer

Oh good lord...Between the patronizing "We know change makes people uncomfortable" and the desperate "We really aren't changing that much," who is this guy trying to convince?!

Whitey Mrx
Whitey Mrx

That looks better than what I got in Humble, Texas a few weeks back.

TimP
TimP

I don't have a strong feeling about it one way or the other, but then again I'm not from around here and I eat there maybe once a year.

Regardless, I wonder about the timing: Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense to do this at the beginning of their high profile chef dogs than at the end? That way, every month you would've gotten a writeup in the various local media outlets  that used your new branding and that would've not only helped get people past the name change but also would've bolstered your new message about 'quality' of the food.

neilquan
neilquan

Lousy food and now a Lousy name. Fitting.

H Newcomb
H Newcomb

Don't they steam their dogs, though?

Stanley Smith
Stanley Smith

Stupid Idea! JCI is Johnson Controls NYSE ticker symbol. Stupid.

tiltingwindmills
tiltingwindmills

The dumbest and most ill-conceived "re-branding" in quite some time. They're giving up an iconic, legendary and instantly recognizable name and logo (and local history and goodwill) to become the forgettable JCI Grill? To stress an expanded menu/attract a new generation/appeal to the health-conscious? Damn. Guess Burger King should become Grill King, Dairy Queen should become Grill Queen, Waffle House should become Grill House, and Whataburger should become Whatagrill. Frankly (no pun intended), this pisses me off. My grandparents, parents, and my sister and I all frequented the original Walker Street location (sister and I would ride buses). The original James also offered burgers and sandwiches (limburger!), but I never witnessed anyone ordering anything but the dogs, Frito pie, tamales or chili. I moved away from Houston in my 20s, and learned to appreciate hot dogs in New York, Providence RI, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. When I returned home, my first stop was always a James Coney Island, where I loaded up on the originals, extra onions (whoever thought eventually to add cheese should, in my opinion, be horse-whipped). Upon moving back, I was heartened to find James expanding the offerings of hot dogs (some short-lived): Sonoran dogs, Chicago Vienna Beef (and fire dogs), jumbo all-beef dogs, Hebrew National Franks, Chicago-style dogs, New York-style dogs, and Polish sausage dogs. Then, came the burger introduction (must admit I've never tried one). Look: I go to hot dog joints for hot dogs and burger joints for burgers; in my experience, a place can do one well, but not both). Wish James would've stayed focused on the dogs (bringing back the Sonoran would be great, as would be introducing an Atlanta slaw dog. I occasionally wear a James Coney Island t-shirt; I'd never be seen in a JCI Grill t-shirt. What about just "James Original?" I'll think about boycotting them over this. Unfortunately, while Houstonians are burger-blessed (and I love burgers) we're hot dog-challenged compared to other cities, with damn good independents (such as Gene & Judes and Hot Dougs in Chicago, Pink's in L.A., the Varsity in Atlanta), other local chains (Portillo's in Chicago, Gray's Papaya in NYC) or semi-national chains (Wienerschitzel; I admit I detour for the kraut dogs and Polish sausage sandwiches). Sometimes, only a hot dog will do it for me. From a hot dog joint. Not sure what I'm going to do yet, except maybe fix up more at home. I'll miss the lunch and quick dinner walk-in/carryout/drive-through options

Tony Gutierrez
Tony Gutierrez

I always order the Texas Chili Cheese and New Yorker

Roger_that
Roger_that

'Take off the leisure suit'....ewwww, just lost my appetite

Did Houstonians wear leisure suits in 1923?

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Hehe, one of the quotes above is mine.. (Corey) And worse they just followed that up with a ton of excuses and rationalizations which only further ticked me off. Talk about not listening to your customers.

Will Walsh
Will Walsh

Oh I do not like this one bit. I really dont' care if they change to JCI, but "grill". Woof. And I'm going to be that guy and say those are cheese coney's in the picture, not Texas Dogs...

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

If I were to open hot dog joints that used Maeker's hot dogs and links (Shiner, Texas), I could capture market share from JCI in no time.

erichenao
erichenao

Makes sense. JCI has been used a lot especially on the social media networks. And yes I do hear it mentioned in the stores. Also "grill" is good, it does imply a healthy aspect which is what it looks like what they are doing to the menu. They HAVE to change it up in order to compete. Look at all the other fast food joints, they are moving to salads and grilled items to give the appearance of healthy. Clearly trying to rejuivenate their aging demographic and trying to grab some of that young "health conscious" market. Yup. I DO like that they are going to be doing more "fancy" dogs. Hope that the experiment with the chef dogs taught them that there is a market for that kind of thing. I'm all for the change. HOMETOWN LOCAL for the win!


_abrahan
_abrahan

Or maybe that professor at University of Houston's Bauer College of Business probably figured out that 2 chili hot dogs with fries costs a lot less if you make it at home yourself. 

Kathy Stabe
Kathy Stabe

That's dumb. I've honestly only ever been to James Coney Island like twice, I don't have a strong opinion about the food itself. But the name is the brand. You don't change the name. Everyone knows James Coney Island. No one has heard of JCI Grill.

Caroline Evans
Caroline Evans

Changing its name won't change the fact that these are the worst hot dogs in America.

Brad Currie
Brad Currie

Where's the "dislike" button? ..Another marketing idiocracy due to our society's constant need to abbreviate everything.

pennylove
pennylove

@tiltingwindmills 

I agree, as a brand you focus on your core strengths, you don't dilute them with some nebulous idea of healthy and forgetable name change.

neilquan
neilquan

Im not sure about all this. If youre going for a healthy meal are you really gonna choose JCI grill? My opinion is that they need to focus on improving the quality of their hot dog and buns. There are other very successful hot dog places in the country. There are no REAL hot dog places in Houston. Im not sure if there is just limited interest here or not. Good Dog is a legitimate attempt, though in my opinion not close to any if the best hot dogs ive had. Houston is in TEXAS. We should have and make the best beef products found anywhere. This includes Hot Dogs. Hot dogs should be big, beefy, have natural casing that SNAP. Whoever starts with a foundation like that will turn this market on its ear!

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@erichenao That's all well and good, but they could've just left well enough alone with the name.

neilquan
neilquan

Well there are some amazing hot dog places in other parts of the country. JCI needs to follow that example not change its brand. Those famous NY and Chicago dogs arent just famous for their toppings. Its the quality of the hot dog, bread AND the toppings. JCI fails in this regard. In a way youre right. You can grab a hebrew national and cheap buns and add your own toppings for less and be just as good as JCI (if not better). I wouldnt say the same about some other places around the country.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Bingo! They trade on "70 Years of Hotdogging It," without realizing that's 70 years to build a brand that's not broken.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

You may be right but I wouldn't know it. Every Wienerschnitzel--one in LA and one in Austin--or Nathan's--DC and NYC--I've ever been to looked like the Greyhound Bus station but nowhere near as clean. If the store looks like a dumpster, I don't order the food. 

pennylove
pennylove

@neilquan 

Yeah, you want to go into the healthy segment? Start a new brand, don't dilute the one you've spent decades building. These people have zero marketing sense. 

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