Restaurant owner recalls statesmen

A COZY STOP ON THE WAY TO CAMP DAVID

March 05, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

THURMONT -- After six decades in the restaurant business, Mary Freeze has seen them all: presidents, first ladies, foreign dignitaries, television reporters and sports heroes.

Winston Churchill, for example, popped into the Cozy Restaurant, which Mrs. Freeze owns and where she has worked since 1934, while on his way to Camp David -- then known as Shangri-La -- with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Churchill, she recalled, ordered a soda, played the jukebox and puffed on a cigar.

The British prime minister's visit is just one of the many fond memories Mrs. Freeze will share with friends, family and customers today as she celebrates her 80th birthday during an open house at the Cozy Restaurant. The event -- from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. -- includes free birthday cake and other refreshments.

"We think she deserves a nice party," said daughter-in-law, Becky, who helps run the place along with her husband, Jerry. "She's worked hard here and has put in a lot of years."

Mrs. Freeze doesn't wait tables anymore, but she often can be found in the restaurant. And if pressed, she might just tell well-wishers today that Roosevelt never left his limousine during that memorable World War II visit. President Dwight Eisenhower never did either. But first lady Mamie Eisenhower ate at the restaurant years later.

Other famous people have dropped by, too.

Television news personalities Barbara Walters and Sam Donaldson, to name a few. And Cal Ripken Sr. ate breakfast there not too long ago after spending the night at the adjacent Cozy Country Inn. The former Orioles coach even ventured across the street to check out a collection of memorabilia at the Cal Ripken Museum.

Today's open house, then, is as much a celebration of Mrs. Freeze's age and decades of service as it is of the restaurant itself. The Cozy, as locals call it, is among the oldest family-owned restaurants in Maryland still under original ownership.

The Cozy Restaurant began as a lunch counter along old Route 15 in 1929. It was part of a business venture that included three rental cottages and an Esso Standard gas station along old Route 15.

Mrs. Freeze, then 19 and single, showed up five years later looking for a job. She had moved east from the family farm in Clear Spring, Washington County, where she milked cows and hauled corn, to work and earn money for nursing school.

"I had a friend in Thurmont, so I showed up one day looking for a job," Mrs. Freeze said. "I lived across the street in a green house. I never dreamed I'd stay."

A year later, though, she and the owner, Wilbur Freeze, got married. She never became a nurse. Instead, she joined her husband at the lunch counter, waiting on customers and cooking, working 18- and 20-hour days through the Great Depression and World War II.

"I've never had any regrets about not becoming a nurse," she said.

Over the years, the lunch counter grew into a full-service restaurant. Today, the Cozy is part of a complex that includes a 750-seat restaurant, gift shops, a country inn and guest cottages that feature decorative rooms named after presidents (from Franklin D. Roosevelt onward) and news services.

The Cozy's proximity to Camp David, the presidential retreat in the nearby Catoctin Mountains, has occasionally placed the restaurant in the international spotlight -- such as during the 1979 Camp David Accords when hordes of national and international television reporters stayed at the Cozy Country Inn to cover the now-famous Israeli-Egyptian peace talks. Photographs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from that era adorn the restaurant's entrance halls.

More typical visitors these days are folks from Baltimore and Washington who escape to the country to hike and camp at Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park -- just a few miles west on Route 77 -- and pick apples and fruit.

While business has flourished -- even after Route 15 was expanded and relocated away from the restaurant in the mid-1950s -- the restaurant has meant hard work and some years of struggle.

"It was tough in those days during the Depression," Mrs. Freeze said. "My husband was always looking for ways to get people in here."

One of his more unusual stunts involved burying a man alive in a wooden box (in which he slept and ate for a week) and allowing customers to peep through a hole.

"We did anything we could to make a nickel," she said.

These days Mrs. Freeze, whose husband died in 1961, is content to leave much of the operation of the Cozy to her only child, Jerry, 58, and his wife. But the Cozy's matriarch often can be found in the restaurant, sitting on a bar stool with an eye on staff and guests.

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