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

The Texas dogs topped with chili, cheese and minced onions are classics at James Coney Island.
The Texas dogs topped with chili, cheese and minced onions are classics at James Coney Island.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

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.

 

The hot dog restaurant released a statement on its Facebook page, and have responded to critics of the name change there.

"Word is out about the updated "JCI Grill" and we know change makes people uncomfortable. We value our long time customers and your thoughts. In response to some of the recent comments: 

Folks have been calling us "JCI" for years. The name James Coney Island is still part of our name but we are breathing new life into the brand and using the "nickname" that we have had for over 30 years. The fundamentals of James Coney Island have not changed and Houston's favorite coneys, all beef hot dogs, chili and chili pie will always remain on the menu. Our core values have not changed, however, the management of James Coney Island has decided that it is time to take off the "leisure suit" after 90 years and give our fabulous brand a face lift. We know how much Houstonian's love the nostalgia of the James Coney Island brand, however, that is not translating over to sales in our stores. Betsy Gelb, professor at University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, even quoted in today's Houston Chronicle article that she and her husband "....didn't decide to stop going there (James Coney Island) . We decided to start going other places". This is what we have been experiencing for the last 10 years. In order for us to stay relevant and hip in this highly competitive market, we need a face lift and we need to change with the times as all good brands have done before us.

Please feel confident that the James Coney Island core values, menu items and service is still alive and well and we hope our loyal James Coney Island fans will join us on this ride as we head into the next millennium."

Straughan says any time you change anything, it makes people feel uncomfortable.

"We really aren't changing that much ... we are updating ourselves," he says. "James Coney Island is still written all over that building. When they have read articles that say we are completely dropping and changing James Coney Island, that's really not true. It is in our new logo and decor. We just put JCI Grill because that's our nickname."

The Holy Mole Dog won't be around for much longer. Get it while you can!
The Holy Mole Dog won't be around for much longer. Get it while you can!
Photo by Christina Uticone

Don't forget there are just a few days left to order Chef Hugo Ortega's Holy Mole Dog -- it's the last specialty hot dog in the Chefs & Show Dogs Series. The gourmet hot dog will be available until the end of November.

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