I had gotten into Omaha early one afternoon and was sort of hungry. I had to do a training meeting that evening and knew I wouldn't be eating dinner until later on. I tried to think of someplace that I hadn't been to in sometime and finally it hit me - King Kong! King Kong is a burger/gyro place on Dodge St. in Omaha (see map). I decided to go there for a gyro for lunch.
King Kong's name is interesting enough, but how it came to be is pretty interesting in its own right. It begins with a young Nick Triantafillou growing up on a Greek island, working almost since he was able to walk. Growing up, Nick dreamt about going to the United States to join up with his uncle who had a restaurant in Omaha, NE. Nick left home in his early 20's joining a commercial shipping company where he sailed the seas and worked as the waiter for the ship's captain.
On a particularly rough journey in 1973 from the United Kingdom to Texas to pick up a boat load of sugar, the young Triantafillou knew he'd had enough of the sea life. After docking in Galveston, TX, knowing no English and armed only with his uncle's telephone number in Omaha, Nick jumped ship. He made his way to some friendly Greek locals in Texas who put him on a plane to Omaha to join up with his uncle who ran a gyro shop in town.
Getting a foothold in the restaurant business, the young Triantafillou opened his first restaurant across the river in Council Bluffs, IA - Nick's Sirloin House. He eventually sold the steakhouse and opened a diner in a small town near Omaha. Triantafillou then opened a fine dining restaurant - Nick and Diana's - in suburban Bellevue, NE. None of the restaurants did particulary well, but Triantafillou kept trying.
Now fully immersed in the restaurant culture, Triantafillou eventually opened a chain of gyro/burger joints across Nebraska called Nick's Gyros. He had locations in Kearney, Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha. He eventually sold off all the locations, but kept the one location at 44th and Dodge in the heart of Omaha's midtown area.
One of Nick's signature meals was a 1/2 pound burger that he wanted to name after something big. Getting the inspiration from the original King Kong movie that he saw as a young man in Greece, Triantafillou named his burger the "King Kong". Not only did King Kong signify the size of his burgers, but also the size of his dinner entrees, including gyros, that Nick's served. And all at a good value price.
In 1994, Triantafillou decided to change the name of his restaurant to King Kong and had his lawyer look into whether he'd be infringing on any trademarks. It turned out that a federal court in the 1970's had ruled that the original King Kong story had become public domain since there were a handful of books and serial articles that had been published about the time the original movie came out in 1933, but it was unclear who actually wrote the first story on King Kong.
And, amazingly, Triantafillou's lawyer also found out that no one owned the trademark on either the King Kong name or the King Kong gorilla image. None of the movie companies or publishing houses had trademarked King Kong since it became public domain 20 years prior. Triantafillou bought the King Kong trademark, the gorilla image trademark, as well as trademarking the "Double Kong" and "Triple Kong" burgers. That's right - a small restaurant owner in Omaha, NE owns King Kong.
In 2001, Triantafillou opened a second location in south Omaha, and subsequently opened two other locations including one in Lincoln. There had been talk of King Kong expanding into Missouri with locations in St. Joseph and Independence, but I don't think those locations have ever opened.
(Pictured left - The Triple Kong 1 1/2 lb. burger. Photo courtesy justjdm.com)
King Kong is on the south side of Dodge, just after 42nd St. and before Saddle Creek. If you're heading west bound on Dodge St. coming out of the downtown Omaha area, you'll have to take the southbound Saddle Creek exit on the right just before King Kong as there's no left turns into businesses along Dodge St. Get in the far right lane of Saddle Creek and take the eastbound Dodge Street exit. It cloverleafs up and around to eastbound Dodge just before the entrance to King Kong on the right. It was around 1:30 p.m. when I pulled into the parking lot of King Kong, well after the noon time lunch rush. But it was still busy enough where there was a fair sized crowd inside the dining room when I went in.
The menu is located on on a lighted marquee board behind the counter. In addition to gyros and burgers, King Kong also features steak and dinner entrees, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, salads, as well as a number of Kid-sized meals for the youngsters. They also have daily specials through the week. I was going to get one of their gyros since it had been a long time since I last had one from King Kong - probably more than 10 years ago. A young lady with an Eastern European accent took my order for a gyro. Within a minute it was up on the counter waiting for me to pick it up.
I found a seat in the back corner of the dining area. There are a series of white-topped tables with matching ice cream parlor-styled chairs throughout the place. The dining room decor sort of has a faux jungle/tropical color and kitschy feeling to the room. It also feels a little more cramped than cozy in the dining area as the tables are close together.
The gyro, itself, was huge (above right). It was piled with gyro meat, fresh onions and tomatoes all swarming in King Kong's homemade tzatziki sauce. Even with a fork, it's a messy delight. The gyro meat was flavorful and tender. Oh, there were a couple pieces of the gyro meat where it was a little more done than others, but it was still edible. The onions were overly fresh and somewhat powerful. Given that it was early spring, the tomatoes were surprisingly fresh. And the homemade tzatziki sauce was a great complement for the whole gyro. The pita bread was soft, pliable and chewy. The gyro at King Kong was exactly as I remembered it to be from the last time I had one a number of years ago.
True to its name, King Kong gives you a lot of food at a great value. My very large gyro cost $5.99 and it was more than a regular lunch meal for me. I was stuffed after I left King Kong. I've never tried one of their burgers so I may have to go back at some point and get one. I doubt if it will be either the Double or Triple Kong burgers (they even have a "Super Kong" 2 lb. burger on the menu), but the 1/2 pound King Kong burger should be able to work for me. But the gyro at King Kong is still worth going there to get one. It's no wonder all four King Kong locations in Omaha and Lincoln are a favorite with the locals.