122 Taunton Avenue, East Providence
(401) 434-9826

If the text on their menu is to be believed, this may truly be the granddaddy of all Rhode Island hot weiner joints. An establishment date of 1915 puts them way ahead of the other self-professed contender for the title, Original New York System of Providence. But wait. We've so far been unable to find any proof that Sparky's really is the older of the two. Neither can we prove that ONYS is the oldest.

Here's the deal: Coney Island System was founded by a Greek immigrant named Theodore G. Kanelos. Kanelos first appeared in Providence City Directories in 1907, but his occupation was listed as "confectioner," or candy maker. He practiced this occupation at various locations (although mostly on Westminster Street), up until 1922. In 1917 he was alternatively listed as a "grocer" and in 1921 he apparently partnered with a fellow named Peter Vican in a pool parlor venture. 1923 was the first time "restaurant" was used as the description of his occupation. The unnamed eatery was located at 16 Plainfield Street. (Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that this address is right next door to Olneyville New York System, founded in 1947). In 1929 and '30 Kanelos apparently dabbled in "real estate" but by 1931 he was back to the restaurant business, and this time the familiar name of Coney Island Hot Weiners appears for the first time. The location was 462 Westminster Street.

But this wasn't the first local business with such a name. In 1925 a place called Coney Island System Lunch opened at 653 Westminster, and Coney Island Special, 678 Westminster, followed in 1926.

Now, we believe there's a connection between Kanelos and Coney Island Special. Stick with us here, because this gets complicated. From 1902 to at least 1924 there was another Greek family, named Kanelakos, which was also engaged in the confectionery business, also at various Westminster Street addresses. At least two of the addresses—#411 and #685—were actually used by both families, although not in the same years. We have to believe the two families knew each other, or were perhaps even related. The Kanelakos family was, from 1905 to 1924, in partnership with a family named Bergeris. Coney Island Special was run by a guy named Ernest G. Bergeris. So we conclude, admittedly from a great deal of circumstantial evidence, that Theodore Kanelos, who founded Coney Island Hot Weiners in 1931 or earlier, knew Ernest G. Bergeris, who opened Coney Island Special in 1926.

As mentioned above, Kanelos was involved in one or more unnamed restaurant ventures in 1923, '25, and '27. For all we know, he may have served hot weiners. It's possible he even served hot weiners as part owner of the pool parlor in 1921, but that still doesn't get us back to 1915, the alleged founding date of Coney Island System. In 1915 Kanelos was a confectioner.

If 1931 is the true year that Coney Island System was founded, it was a good year indeed for long-lasting hot weiner joints, because Original New York System (then simply called "New York System") also made its debut in the directories that year.

At some point Coney Island Hot Weiners became known as Coney Island System, and around 1934 was taken over by Theodore's son, James. James ran the business for a remarkable fifty years before retiring in 1984. At one time there were locations in Providence, Cranston, and East Providence, although only the last is still operating. The current owner is a fellow with the shocking moniker of Sparky Watts, who learned the weiner business from Jimmy Kanelos when he was in high school and college.

By the way, if we haven't confused you enough, here are few more possible hot weiner connections: Theodore's wife (Jimmy's mother) was Jean Stevens, who may or may not have been related to the Olneyville New York System Stevenses. Jimmy's wife was Stella Pappas, who may or may not have been related to the Original New York System Pappases. Sparky, when we spoke with him, said he thought that the Kaneloses and Pappases may have been cousins, which would explain the tangled business and familial relationships.

But maybe this level of biographical/genealogical tea leaf reading leaves you cold. If that's the case, just enjoy a couple of Sparky's weiners and a coffee milk and throw a few quarters into the aging Ms. Pac Man machine at the rear of the restaurant. Sparky made a point of telling us that his restaurant still uses weiners made from thirty-foot uncut lengths purchased from Little Rhody in Johnston, a difference that he feels distinguishes authentic old-guard hot weenie places from the relatively new upstarts.

On a July 2009 visit to Coney Island System we noticed a new item on the menu—"Air Dogs." Do they fly, you might ask? No, "air" is used here in the same way as when it's paired with the word "guitar." In other words, no weiners were harmed in the making of this sandwich. So if you've always thought the condiments were undeservedly overshadowed by the preeminence of the weiner in a hot weiner, this is the sammich for you.

Update, January 2016: Sparky's closed, reportedly because of tax troubles. "We are hoping to work out a payment plan with the Division of Taxation," a Facebook admin commented.

Update, February 2016: A Facebook user posted: "Please pray for Sparky... he had a heart attack and is in the hospital."

Update, June 2016: The Facebook admin posted that Sparky was "feeling better & lost some weight!" Nothing definite about re-opening.

Update, September 2016: Sparky himself posted "Dear Friends of Sparky's Coney Island System. As you might have already read, the restaurant will be opening back up sometime in October under new ownership and a new name. Dave Kay was a regular customer of ours and we wish him well opening up as East Providence Weiners. It has been my honor and privilege to be part of the Kanelos family tradition, and I hope that my customers continue to support the best 'weinie joint' in the state of RI."


Fork in the Rhode: One of the top ten weiners in Rhode Island (2011).

Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island: Underdog (2014).

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