18 Plainfield Street, Providence
(401) 621-9500
www.olneyvillenysystem.com

Olneyville New York System is one of the old-timers. It's been around since... well, it's been around a while.

The original restaurant, located at 8 Olneyville Square, was opened by Anthony Stevens and his son Nicholas in 1946. They had immigrated from Greece to Brooklyn, New York, in the 1920s, (original family name: Stavrianakos), then moved to Rhode Island in the late 1930s, where they joined other family members in running Original New York System on Smith Street. When the pair opened their own store in Olneyville, the menu consisted of just hot weiners (priced at a mere five cents apiece) and a few other lunch items. In 1953 they opened a new 24-hour operation in the present location, but by 1968 it was clear the early morning hours weren't profitable enough to make it worthwhile, so the hours were cut back. In 1981 a second location was opened in Cranston and a third was added in North Providence in 2008. The Stevens family, now in its fourth generation, still operates all three locations.

Not a lot has changed at Olneyville New York System since the sixties. In 2008 new menu cards replaced yellowed, decades-old signs on the soffit above the preparation counter, but that's about it. We'll miss the old menu cards with their pasted over prices. They were one of many elements that contributed to the store's comfortingly gritty character. This is the kind of a place where, if you order anything other than weiners, they might give you a funny look.

While waiting for your food (don't worry, it won't be long), enjoy the attempts at humor posted above the preparation counter, including a blown-up copy of a Zippy the Pinhead comic strip that features the restaurant. Besides weiners, there's coffee milk and there's vinegar for your fries, as well as standard lunch counter staples like steak sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and tuna melts.

Unlike the hot dogs you're used to purchasing in your local grocery store, "authentic" New York System weiners come in a continuous rope about twenty feet long. The weiners, which are made of pork, beef, and veal wrapped in a natural casing, have to be cut to size by hand every day, seven days a week.

Greg Stevens, current owner of Olneyville New York System, tells us they sell more coffee milk than any other retail restaurant, and even more than some supermarkets. "We sell coffee milk over white milk by about ten to one." Stevens won't reveal how many weinies are sold during any particular time period, but he did tell us about a couple of unusually large orders: "...a couple of times, we have had people have us deliver 200 to weddings late at night—once to the Biltmore and once at the Alpine Country Club.

In other menu trivia, if you order beef stew, be prepared for something you wouldn't want to eat with a spoon. In New York System parlance, "beef stew" is an order of French fries loaded with salt, vinegar, and ketchup. Now, you might imagine there's a story behind that, and you'd be right. According to Stevens, the term was coined by a crotchety old counter guy named Tom "The Bomb" Bombas in the early 1980s. Customers would come in and order their fries loaded up with vinegar, ketchup, and salt, and Tom would complain, "With all that [expletive deleted] on there I should charge you for a beef stew." He said it so often that regulars began asking for it by name. And they still do.

Another story demonstrates how serious some people are about their weiners. Many years ago, a couple of cops detained a group of suspicious young people in front of the Olneyville store. While one cop was patting down a few of the kids in the parking lot, the other was controlling three more, at gunpoint, on the sidewalk in front of the entrance. As this was going on a number of customers approached, paused as they took in the scene, then walked past the covering officer, stepped over the prone youths, and bellied up to the take-out window. The power of the weiner in action.

A Providence Phoenix writer cheekily suggested in a 2005 article that the chopping motion David Byrne performed down his arm in the Talking Heads video for "Once in a Lifetime" was informed by a brief stint behind the counter of the Olneyville New York System in the early 1970s, when Byrne was a student at RISD. It's a creative surmise, but one with little basis in fact. While Byrne did once work at Original New York System on Smith Street, he said in a 2008 Providence Phoenix interview that the motion in the video actually came from street dancers that he observed in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.

If you have a chance to catch the Showtime series Brotherhood, keep an eye out for scenes filmed at Olneyville New York System. The production staged at least two shoots there, in September 2004 and July 2005, and the store is featured prominently in a scene in the pilot episode. Actual ONYS employees and Stevens family members were used as extras, and Greg Stevens even got a non-speaking part as a senator in a scene filmed at the State House.

Now you can try to bring the classic taste of Olneyville New York System hot weiners into your own home with Olneyville N.Y. System Hot Wiener Sauce Spice Mix. Order it online or pick it up at one of the many locations listed on the Olneyville New York System website. The actual recipe is a close-held secret, but we hear that other recipes that attempt to duplicate it with tomato sauce, brown gravy, or Worcestershire sauce are off the mark.

Recent Events

Olneyville's weiners were featured on a segment of The View on July 2, 2010. David Hoffman, Executive Producer of The Best Thing I Ever Ate came on with some hot dog and frozen treat favorites for View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd to sample. About the weiners Whoopi quipped," I was married to one of those." Sherri, after tasting one, exclaimed, "Salty!" To her credit, she took a second bite, but neither Sherri nor Whoopi seemed too thrilled with what they had just put in their mouths. Could it have been David's description of "up the arm" that put them off?

Also on July 2, friends of Olneyville New York System launched a Facebook page, titled 1,000,000 Olneyville NY System Fans to have MAN VS FOOD come to Olneyville! Man vs. Food is a Food Network show in which host Adam Richman attempts insane food challenges that would make grown men cry. Of course now ONYS will need to set a benchmark. Owner Greg Stevens wrote on Facebook: "The most hot wieners that I have ever seen anyone eat in my 30+ years is 17 (a high school kid 20 years ago, and we haven't seen him since). I challenge anyone to beat that record and if they do, we would have that person go up against Adam Richman from Man V. Food IF we can get him to Olneyville!"

Olneyville New York System is open Monday to Thursday, 7am-2am; Friday and Saturday, 7am-3am; and Sunday, 6pm-2am.

Awards

ABC6 Best of Southern New England Viewers' Poll: Best New York System Hot Weiners (1998, 2000)
Providence Phoenix Readers' Picks: Best Wiener Joint (2010).
Rhode Island Monthly's Readers' poll: Best Weiners in Providence County (1994).

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to highways or menacing bears. Your travel distance will be longer.

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