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Cozy closes itís doors

Patti Borda Mullins
Frederick News-Post

(6/9) Wait staff informed new and longtime Cozy Restaurant customers Sunday that it was the last day for the 85-year-old establishment.

Harry Fogle, a server, was working on a Cozy catering job Sunday off-site and reflected on a happy 29 years with the restaurant. His 14-year-old daughter, Megan, has been working at the restaurant, too.

Like other members of the staff being let go, he understood that Jerry Freeze, son of the original owner, is ready to retire.

"Theyíre like family," Fogle said. "I grew up with their kids."

Freeze did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Sunday night.

Fogle said he found out Friday that Sunday would be the last day for the restaurant, though the associated Cozy Country Inn will continue. Fogle has built a base of about 30 loyal customers, whom he will miss, he said. The fate of the Camp David Museum, inside the restaurant, was unclear Sunday.

Fogle said he is applying to jobs around Frederick and Hagerstown, but probably not at the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, just a few blocks from the Cozy.

"I never wanted to apply at (the Cozyís) competition," he said.

Sharon and Tom Sobotka, of Silver Spring, heard through the grapevine a week ago that the restaurant they have visited since the 1950s was closing, and they made a point to get out one more time.

"The memories are here," Sharon Sobotka said.

Tom Sobotka started coming to the restaurant in the 1950s, as he would visit his uncle, a pastor at parishes in Emmitsburg. In the 50 years the Sobotkas have been married, the family came back almost every New Yearís Day, and several other times a year, Sharon said.

"We would all pile out here," she said.

The buffet ó with its assortment of meats and salads, homemade soups and desserts ó was a favorite, she said. On Sunday, she enjoyed one last cup of Cozy clam chowder.

Elaborate Christmas decorations made a lasting impression with the Sobotkas: large trees with country ornaments, model railroad scenes, gingerbread houses made by Girl Scouts, red and green touches everywhere.

"It was like a winter wonderland," Sharon Sobotka said. "They decorated so beautifully."

One of her husbandís cousins had wedding reception there. They remember years when the restaurant was so popular that customers had to take a number, would walk across the street to shop and wait as long as an hour for an announcement that they could be seated.

The Cozy website states it is the oldest restaurant in Maryland owned and operated by the founding family. In 2000, Cozy was inducted in to the Maryland Restaurant Association Hall of Fame and the National Restaurant Association Hall of Fame.

The Camp David Museum highlights the businessí association with presidents visiting the area, starting with President Herbert Hoover.

According the website, in 1929, Hooverís personal secretary built a retreat in the Catoctin Mountains and became a close friend of the Freeze family.

Cozy was the original housing for the Secret Service who protected President Franklin Roosevelt while in Thurmont, the website states.

For the Sobotkas, the museum is an afterthought to the food and people they have come to appreciate.

"Itís absolutely wonderful, and we will miss the staff," Sharon Sobotka said.

"This place has a lot of memories," she said. "We will definitely miss Cozyís."

Cozy owes thousands in back taxes

Ed Waters
Frederick News-Post

(6/10) Frank Robey traveled from Baltimore on Monday to have lunch at the Cozy Restaurant and then stop at Catoctin Mountain Trains and Hobbies.

Finding the Cozy closed, Robey ended up eating in Frederick, then going back to the train shop to look for a caboose that smoked and lit up.

"It is a regular thing," Paul Koontz, an employee of the train shop, said of Robeyís visits to Thurmont. "A lot of people do that, especially on Sundays. They stop here first, then eat at the Cozy or vice versa."

The Cozy closed its doors Sunday after serving customers since 1929. Koontz was shocked by the news, he said.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill dined at the Cozy, owner Jerry Freeze said. "We had German delegations, Russian delegations, foreign journalists, TV anchors, a lot of people."

Both the restaurant and motel were used by the U.S. Secret Service and other presidential staff over the years, according to the Cozyís website.

In a telephone interview Monday, Freeze said he was retiring and would sell much of the property, such as the small buildings that house the Villages of the Cozy across the street.

"The motel will stay open, and we may rent or sell the restaurant," said Freeze, 78. "Iím almost 80, and there really isnít anyone left in the family to run the business. I never thought I would want to retire."

The business owes more than $153,000 in federal taxes, according to records at the Frederick County Courthouse, and about $26,000 in state taxes, according to the Maryland Comptrollerís Office.

Kathy Vahle, administrator at the Frederick County liquor board, said Freeze did not renew the liquor license for the Cozy last year.

The business had to cancel planned parties and other events, but Freeze said it was best to just close the restaurant. He had about 60 to 75 employees, most of them part time, depending on the season, he said.

"A lot of my customers were older folks," Freeze said. "Most of the people I know at my age are retired or dead."

The Cozy was the oldest restaurant in Maryland continuously owned by the same family.

"Weíve served about 14 million people over the years," Freeze said.

He isnít sure what will happen with the memorabilia in the Camp David Museum and other items in the restaurant, Freeze said.

"I will keep some of the personal things. Maybe sell some or give to the historical society or the visitors center."

The business and properties are in various trusts and corporations, and it will take time to work everything out before property is sold or rented out, Freeze said.

"I could see the business was down," said Pat Manahan, owner of Mountain Memories, across from the restaurant. "I could see that out my window. There used to be six or eight buses over there sometimes, but it was down."

Over the 16 years she has been in business, restaurant or Cozy Inn motel customers would come over to her craft and boutique shop and look around, Manahan said.

"Iím sure it broke his heart to close," she said of Freeze.

Mike Hobbs, a member of the family that runs Hobbs Hardware in Thurmont, said the closing is a double-edged sword.

"It brought us business from people who came to the Cozy, and the Cozy was a customer of ours," Hobbs said. "They needed maintenance and would buy what they needed from us. Weíve dealt with the Cozy for 60 years."

Hobbs said he hated to see any local business close and buildings become empty in the town.

"I really canít see anything positive out of it," Hobbs said of the closing.

Mayor John Kinnaird said the Cozy was synonymous with Thurmont.

"I could meet someone in California and say I was from Thurmont, and they would immediately know the Cozy," Kinnaird said Monday from a Maryland Municipal League meeting in Ocean City.

Town Commissioner Martin Burns called the Cozyís closing a huge loss.

"The restaurant hosted so many events. It is a sad day," Burns said.

The Lions Club met every other Wednesday at the Cozy for decades, and the town staff had their annual Christmas party there, he said.

Town officials had talked with Freeze a year ago and were told everything was fine, he said.

John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, noted the restaurantís longtime importance for tourism.

"Cozy has been a Frederick County landmark for 85 years, and it was the destination that brought many families to visit Frederick County from around the region," Fieseler wrote in an email. "Jerry Freeze and his family have been great supporters of tourism in Frederick County dating back to the establishment of the Catoctin Mountains Tourist Council, which predates the 1976 founding of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. The restaurant was also a favorite stop for many motorcoach tours over the decades."

The development of the Cozyís Camp David Museum gave the tourism office a place to send people who were interested in the presidential retreat, since they obviously canít go to the retreat itself, Fieseler wrote. "We hope that the exhibit contents will find a new home in the Thurmont area."

Given the volatility of the restaurant business, Cozyís 85-year run is noteworthy, Fieseler said, as is having a business remain in family control for that length of time.

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