Bridget Bartos · Kaitlyn Kelley · Michael Epps · Ruta Ulcinaite

The Coney Quest: How visiting three Coney Islands taught us about branding

This past week, our media entrepreneurship class at Michigan State was tasked with quite a strange (but very helpful) project: visit and eat at three different Coney Islands.

At first, we were a little confused. Why would we visit three of the same restaurants just to eat the same thing: A classic Coney dog? But it turns out a valuable lesson can be learned from visiting three very similar restaurants. As each group in our class is in the beginning stages of creating a digital media startup, it was helpful to look at the ways similar businesses can find little ways to differentiate themselves from one another.

Each Coney we visited was different in some way. Some were more family based, having warm and welcoming vibes; others were obviously aimed at college kids who are hungover on a Saturday morning. Our group visited Leo’s Coney Island in East Lansing, Zues’ Greecian Island in Lansing, and Dan’s Coney Island in Lansing.

At each restaurant we ordered the same thing, a plain coney dog. This was both to save money and make the comparison easier.

We began in East Lansing at Leo’s. It’s located right off of M.A.C. on the first floor of the Marriott Hotel, and is very close to MSU’s campus. With a laid back vibe, it’s the perfect Coney Island for college students.

The atmosphere is sleek but classic American. Red booths with pictures of MSU on the walls. It is what you imagine a Coney Island looks like, very classic. It was not very busy on a Wednesday evening, but I have been there on Saturday or Sunday mornings/ afternoons, and it is insane.

We ordered our classic coney dog and received this:

The hotdog was very juicy and tender, and the chili was warm with the perfect amount of spice. There were a lot of onions on this one, which was a little bit overwhelming.

Leo’s Coney Island’s appeal is to college students on a budget. The deal of the day was 99 cent coneys, so we were in luck! It was cheap and delicious. The coney was plain, but had lots of flavor. The surrounding televisions had sports channels on, so you could eat and stay up to date with college sports.

The second Coney location we visited was Zeus’ Greecian Island in Lansing. The vibe was very different from our first stop. It was more family oriented and more GREEK—blue and white tiles surrounded the building, plants hung from the ceiling and the menu offered multiple traditional Greek dishes, and of course coneys as well.

This hot dog was in the middle of the prices, costing us $2.59. Not too bad for a coney dog.

Since this Coney Island was further from campus, the atmosphere was more family orientated and multiple families filled up the restaurant during dinner rush. The actual coney was, again, delicious, but was maybe thrown together a little quicker. Stuff was falling off the bun and the meat was not cooked as well as at the East Lansing location.

This restaurant was a little upset that we only got one dog then left, unlike Leo’s, who completely understood it was a project for school.

After we left, we headed off the Dan’s.

Peep the sign^

Our last Coney Island was in pretty close proximity to Zeus’ Coney Island. Dan’s Coney Island was extremely family oriented and had a small-town feel. Waitresses spoke to you like you’ve known them for years, quirky signs made up the restaurant decor and the service was extremely quick.

We ended up with the Flint, which had a meatier chili. The dog was good, but the meat was a little much for us. The onions were also a little big.

This was the most expensive hotdog of them all. Most likely because of its many options. It cost $3.

Dan’s concluded our coney adventure, and it was really fun to see the differences between all of the places that have the same purpose. I think the most interesting part was how the East Lansing Leo’s was cheap and much more chill, with all college kids working and going. Lansing was all family, with high schoolers as employees and families visiting the restaurant.

Overall, it was a fun way to spend the day!

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