Nicholas Arvanitis and his brother founded the Original Coney Island Café in 1923. Nicholas Arvanitis grew up in Greece, immigrated to the U.S. in 1908, fought in World War I, and, as a result, earned U.S. citizenship. He and his brother, Gust, opened a barber shop in what is now the tavern building, at 448 St. Peter St., in 1923 and lived upstairs. That same year or soon thereafter, they opened the Original Coney Island Café in a building next door that no longer exists at 450 St. Peter St. – where the driveway is now. It was a small, one-story frame building. In 1926 or so, Nick went back to Greece to marry Francis, and she initially raised their children upstairs. Four of their six children lived upstairs above the bar or café. Eventually, as she learned English, Francis went downstairs and helped run the café. When Nicholas died in 1963, she and her two sons ran the café and bar themselves. Two of the sons, Lucas – or Louie – and Harry, worked really their entire lives at the café with their mother. Harry worked on the café side with his mother and ran that operation and Louie ran the adjoining bar. When the Coney Island first closed in 1994, there was a sign on the door that said something like “Closed for Today.” They always said they would reopen when their mother got well and that just never happened. In recent years, the Coney Island has been open for special events and private parties.
The two Original Coney Island buildings themselves are historically significant. They’re both designated historic landmarks by the city of St. Paul. The smaller of the two, the one that houses the bar at 448 St. Peter St., was built in 1858, making it the second-oldest commercial building in the city and the oldest building in downtown St. Paul. The second, taller building, at 444 St. Peter St., was built in 1888. Both are very good examples of the small-scale masonry buildings that downtown St. Paul was full of during the latter half of the 19th century. The distinctive interiors of the Original Coney Island bar and café are like walking into an Edward Hopper painting in such a delicious, delightful way.
Source: Relishing the Original Coney Island, an interview of Aaron Rubenstein, Historic Saint Paul program director, by Dixie Treichel for KFAI Radio, date unknown (circa 2016), audio file retrieved from http://ampers.org/mn-art-culture-history/relishing-the-original-coney-island/.