Rachael and Nicholas Gray: A Story of Love and Hot Dogs

  Last modified on June 2nd, 2023
rachel gray

Rachael Gray

Following the death of Gray’s Papaya founder Nicholas Gray, we had the opportunity to speak with his widow, Rachael Gray. In addition to running the legendary hot dog business, Ms. Gray is currently a principal at the architecture firm Gray Partnership.


“Nothing has changed in the business in 50 years,” she says, “and I don’t plan on changing anything moving forward.” And with good reason: the famous snap of their dogs is known world-wide and is part of what makes it stand out.

So what’s their secret?

“The natural casing gives it an amazing snap when you bite into it,” she tells us, “and it holds the juices in the hot dog on the grill so with the first bite you get the snap and the juices.”

Ms. Gray truly loves Gray’s Papaya hot dogs, and in fact, after marrying Nicholas, they became the only hot dogs she would eat in America.

How does she take them? Well, “Everyone likes them differently,” she says. “The regulars are very particular. We always liked them the same way. A well-done hot dog with a lot of mustard and the rolls are so hot it almost burns your fingers.”

Toasting the rolls is something that Gray’s is unique for doing, she tells us. “We put our rolls on the grill so the outside of the roll is nice and hot and the inside is soft and fluffy. You don’t get a hot dog without the roll being on the grill. Sometimes in a lunchtime rush we don’t get them as hot as we would like, but they are always toasted.”

It was a whirlwind romance for Ms. Gray when she met Nicholas back in 1989. She was living in Montreal at the time and had just been accepted to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Her father, Edmond Eberts, was a friend of Nicholas through the Zeta Psi chapter of McGill University, and he encouraged her to look him up when she arrived in New York. Nicholas and Rachael ended up going out to dinner, and they fell in love that night. She says he was “the most charming man” she ever met.

Nicholas Gray

Nicholas Gray

They began dating and moved in together in 1992 while she was still a student at Parsons. They got married in 1996 after she graduated, at which point Rachael began working on a graduate degree in architecture at Princeton.


You have to be an incredibly hard worker to open your own restaurant, and in fact, when Nicholas first opened his store, he worked behind the counter every day for an entire year. On his first day off, he decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge by himself, something the couple did together many times.

After the tremendous effort he put in during the first year, he was able to step back to focus on being the general manager. Keeping the right personnel in place was the most difficult part of running a successful business, Ms. Gray said. The drinks are made fresh twice a day, and the hot dog rolls are delivered every day, a successful business that she calls “a beautiful thing he left our family.”

Nicholas eventually hired a manager, but he was still involved on a daily basis until he was diagnosed with Alzheimers. In his later years, he still tried to be in the store once a week.

The diagnosis came just under six years ago and could have happened earlier, but Rachael thought he was just getting old and forgetful, so she started taking over the business without his knowledge. Rachael tells us he never knew he had Alzheimer’s, which she counts as a small blessing.

While she plans on keeping the store as is, there are some new developments on the horizon. She’s starting to work on a brand book which will tell the story of Gray’s Papaya, and while Gray’s never did any outside advertising or PR, they have agreed to participate in the first ever SmashBurger Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on June 17 with a hot dog eating contest.

And lastly, Ms. Gray would like you to know that the only hot dogs they ever ate besides their own came from a famous store in Chile, where Nicholas was from, called Domino. This place offers so many toppings that reviews say eating one “is a feat of gravity without the toppings falling on your shirt.”

Domino was a place Nicholas loved very much as a child, and he and Rachael took many trips there over the years. It was the true inspiration for what Gray’s Papaya became on that fateful day in 1973 when Nicholas Gray walked by a Papaya King at East 86th Street and Third Avenue.


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