One of 13 children of a poor Jewish shoemaker, he immigrated to the United States in 1912. Handwerker found work as a delivery boy and later obtained a job slicing rolls of bread at Feltman"s German Gardens, a restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New New York The restaurant sold franks (hot dogs) for 10 cents each.
By one account, Handwerker was encouraged by singing waiters Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to go into business in competition with Feltman"son
As United Press International noted in 1974, "There are many stories about Nathan and how the business began, but this is the way he told lieutenant." The company"s official history does not mention the encouragement of those two entertainers. Nathan and Ida spent their life savings of $300 to begin the business.
They spiced their hot dogs with Ida"s secret recipe and sold them for a nickel. Handwerker named his previously unnamed hot dog stand Nathan"s Hot Dogs in 1921 after Sophie Tucker, then a singer at the nearby Carey Walsh"s Cafe, made a hit of the song "Nathan, Nathan, Why You Waitin?"
On March 23, 1974, Nathan Handwerker suffered a heart attack at his home in North Portuguese Charlotte, Florida.
He died March 24, 1974, per differing accounts at either Saint Joseph"s Hospital in Portuguese Charlotte, Florida, or at Sarasota General Hospital, in Sarasota, Florida.
He was buried at Mountain. Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New New York