Faithful customers order last meals at Cocoros Baltimore business closes to make way for empowerment zone

August 18, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The lights went out on another corner of old Baltimore yesterday.

Loyal patrons came three generations deep to Cocoros Brothers in Belair Market, to get one last taste of hamburgers and hot dogs topped with heaps of boiled onions and chili.

The food has a flavor like no other, they said.

And though Arthur "Archie" Cocoros closed the business -- its building will be razed as part of the city's empowerment zone -- his father and uncle, Greek immigrants, started in 1922, he's not ready to give away the hamburger and chili recipes.

So longtime customer Randy Giles had to settle for filling an insulated pouch with food to take back to his home in Lansdale, Pa.

"There's hot dogs, there's hamburgers and there's polish sausages," Giles said, peeping into the bag at the precious foil-wrapped cargo. "Since this is the last day, I'm going to eat maybe one or two a day" to make the order last.

The 45-year-old Baltimore native came in with his daughter Brandi, 18, mother and aunt for breakfast and sandwiches to go.

Giles, a production planner at Merck & Co., has eaten at Cocoros every time he has been in Baltimore to visit relatives. "I stop here before I see my mother," he said.

His mother, Zatella Giles, is not jealous.

She's been a faithful Cocoros customer since her teens in the 1940s, and she raised her three sons on the taste of bacon and egg sandwiches, and chili and onion topped hamburgers and hot dogs.

"You could cook it at home, but it won't taste the same," said Zatella Giles, a retired quality control inspector at Continental Can Co. "The chili, nobody else fixes it. We don't know where we're going to go now."

She left her phone number behind in case Cocoros opens again elsewhere.

Behind the counter on the business's last day, relief was mixed with sadness for Arthur Cocoros, 59. He and his cousin, Stavro Cocoros, 74, took over the 74-year-old business from Nicholas Cocoros, half of the founding team, in 1976. With Stavro Cocoros ill with lung cancer, Arthur Cocoros has been overseeing the business by himself for the past few months.

The city will close the market building at the end of the month and eventually demolish it and build a bank and supermarket or drugstore in its place as part of empowerment zone revitalization in the area, said Scott Hardesty, a former president of the Belair Market Merchants Association.

Several stalls already are empty, and Cocoros closed yesterday to give himself a couple of weeks to clear out.

"In a way it's a relief," he said. "It's hard work. But I enjoy it. I enjoy talking to the customers."

Yesterday, Cocoros and longtime employees Angelo Mikros, 77, and Shirley Butler, 55, kept the hot dogs sizzling and the freshly cooked hamburger patties drenched in boiled onions in between saying goodbye to folks who have become more than customers over the decades.

Like Agnes Barger, 72. She became a fan of Cocoros' during the 1940s when she worked at a nearby bank and walked to the counter on her lunch break.

"This is my only grandchild that won't get to eat a hamburger here," Barger said, pointing to 6-month-old Terry Brittany Sebeck.

She won't know what she's missing. And Barger won't know how to describe the taste to her.

"I couldn't tell you what it is; it's just out of this world," she said before biting into a sandwich of chili and onions on a hot dog roll.

Will she and other patrons find a new favorite place for hamburgers and hot dogs?

Randy Giles answered without hesitation.

"I won't even look."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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