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Jerry Freeze looks through items in the Camp David Museum inside the Cozy Restaurant. The restaurant near the presidential retreat closed on June 8. / Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

THURMONT, Md. - As the story goes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were leaving the presidential encampment called Shangri-La - later renamed Camp David - when the two most powerful men in the Western world decided to make a stop on the drive back to Washington, at the Cozy Restaurant.

"Roosevelt waited in the car," said Jerry Freeze, owner of the Cozy, "and Churchill came here to play the jukebox. He come in, he wanted to get a beer, and he'd never seen a jukebox."

That celebrity pop-by in May 1943, was the Cozy's closest brush with a sitting president ?? and its last.

After decades of serving White House staffers and the Washington press corps, the family-run restaurant about a 10-minute drive from Camp David closed its doors June 8.

Since 1942 when Roosevelt established the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, someone from every administration has eaten or drank at the restaurant, Freeze said.

Vickie Grinder, who worked at the Cozy since 1998, said she met George W. Bush aides Andrew Card, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, as well as Obama adviser David Axelrod. "They are all just wonderful, down-to-Earth people," she said.

For Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, going into the mountains meant "a nice escape from Washington" and much cooler temperatures. By phone he said he was sad to hear the Cozy closed.

"There was one trip, I remember it well, President Bush invited up the entire Republican leadership of Congress up to Camp David, so all the cabins were taken," he said. "I stayed at that little hotel. ... It was really delightful. The people who ran it could not have been nicer, kinder, friendlier. It really matched its name. It really was cozy."

Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos was a fan of the Cozy's comfort food. "I loved the juicy burgers and room full of friendly smiles," he said by e-mail.

Reporters for news outlets like The Associated Press, Reuters and CNN were the Cozy's steadiest customers over the years as they awaited news out of Camp David, Freeze said. During the Truman years, reporters and photographers set up their own phone lines and darkrooms on site, he said.

In the journalists' honor, Freeze named most of the 21 rooms at the Cozy's adjoining motel after news agencies: The CNN Cottage, the White House Press Room, the NBC Room, among others.

"We've had all the celebrities, as far as the press. The Cronkites, the Walters," Freeze said. "When you are dealing with the press, what you see is what you get. They aren't actors. They bring their personality and all with them wherever they go. Sam Donaldson, he comes off as real in person as he does on the TV. I don't know if he's on it still anymore, but he's on the arrogant side."

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower renamed Shangri-La for his grandson, David. Freeze said Mamie Eisenhower dined at the Cozy on many occasions and became friends with his mother, Mary Freeze. Several photos of the women together were displayed in a small museum within the restaurant featuring Camp David memorabilia. Freeze is donating the mementos he collected in his Camp David Museum to the city, he said. Everything else is for sale, cutlery to chandeliers.

Before Watergate, President Richard Nixon planned to visit the Cozy, but didn't show. Freeze said the Secret Service nixed the visit because the 22,000-square-foot restaurant had too many entrances to secure.

Now, it's been a while since the White House called.

"Since Obama got elected, there hasn't been much activity," he said. "You don't see much about Camp David. The others could tie into that, they had a place where they could ride horses. The Reagans and Bushes liked that. Obama, he'll go to Hawaii or Chicago. He maybe works more than the other presidents, I don't know."

Before the recession, "every room was full," said Diane Van Vleck, 58, a Cozy server and manager for 24 years. "Everything was full. Going full steam ahead. It was just something in its heyday."

What changed, she said, was competition ?? "from everywhere. All the chains. We're a little bit back off the road for the tourists. But we had so many regular customers. They came every weekend. Some of them came every day."

The restaurant slowly evolved into a buffet, a transition Freeze thinks turned off younger customers. Then his tax bills started backing up.

Now Freeze, 78, says it's time to retire. "I thought that I'd never get old and lose my drive," he said. "I've lost energy. There was no one in the family to take it over. That was that, I guess."

He plans to sell the restaurant and the surrounding 10 acres, which include the motel and some retail shops.

The Cozy, which grew into a compound from a campground established by Freeze's dad, Willie, has been recognized by the Restaurant Association of Maryland as the state's oldest restaurant continuously operated by the same family, said association president Marshall Weston Jr. In 2000, the association inducted the Cozy into its Hospitality Hall of Honor.

"The Camp David connection is authentic," Grinder said. "Nobody else has that. ... It's also a loss for the town as well, because it's an icon. You can be in Hawaii, you can be in California, and everybody knows Thurmont by Cozy restaurant. It was a landmark."

Shane also reports for The Daily Times in Salisbury, Md.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Camp David diner closes chapter in history

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