“It seems like a simple thing: Hot dog. Chili. Raw onion. Mustard. Steamed bun. But the delicate interplay of these ingredients when done right is symphonic.”– Anthony Bourdain
In 2013, the late, great Anthony Bordain featured Duly’s Place Coney Island on his Detroit episode of No Reservations. In just over two minutes of airtime, the entire world became aware of an institution that, to many, has lived eclipsed in the shadows of more prominent, downtown establishments.
But to residents of Southwest Detroit, Duly’s is – and always has been – Detroit’s best coney. This year, the Vernor Highway mainstay celebrates its centennial anniversary.
In 1921, Duly Siet – an Albian native – opened his restaurant in the rapidly-expanding immigrant neighborhood adjacent to present-day Mexican Town. Since then, little has changed inside the cozy, no-frills diner. Family and friends still run the joint and decisions are made with the greater community in mind.
“Keeping it cash only keeps the prices down for the neighborhood,” explained Martin Gojcaj – son of owner Joe Gojcaj. “Plus, we’re 24-hours, so what do we do if the machine goes out in the middle of the night?”
Duly’s offers breakfast ‘round the clock, along with your standard American diner fare. But to the vast majority of regulars, along with those who – inspired by the hype – make the trek from the ‘burbs, it’s all about the coneys. The dogs are sourced from Dearborn and while the chili recipe remains a heavily guarded secret, there’s no doubt that there’s something that separates the flavor from other restaurants in the city. “It’s got a different spice to it,” insisted one cook.
Coneys aren’t the only dish smothered in the legendary sauce. Chili-cheese fries, loose burgers, and chili-covered omelets cross their countertop with frequency. Unlike other coneys, though, Duly’s offers a Detroit take on an American classic that most take for granted: Chili-Cheese hash browns. Worried about your health? Don’t be. According to the cooks, they are the only restaurant in town that serves their omelets with a complimentary side salad.
Amidst the challenges presented by COVID-19, the staff is especially grateful to its loyal customers who have transitioned to carry-out dining, despite missing the nostalgia of sitting at their 100-year-old countertop. Surrounded by Detroit’s best Mexican cuisine, they believe their menu – though largely similar to other Detroit coneys – offers a deviation from the norm of the neighborhood. Gojcaj explained, “A lot of our daily customers are Hispanic. And I think that because they’re making that kind of food at home – especially now – they come to us for something different.”
As Duly’s celebrates a century of feeding the Southwest side, they embrace their much-deserved place in Detroit history and look forward to a day – hopefully soon – when they can continue their tradition of serving the neighborhood grill-to-counter.