"Cozy" Stand Makes Onion Burgers World Famous
By Randy Rundle
For 81 years, the Cozy Inn -- a tiny restaurant in downtown Salina Kansas has been making and selling small hamburgers, officially known as "aromatic sliders."
They are made the same as they were decades ago, and they are made only one way, equal parts hamburger and onion, catsup, mustard and a pickle. There is no such thing as a "cheeseburger" on the Cozy Inn menu and you had better not ask for one!
Using only fresh meat and raw onions -- nothing frozen or premade -- the staff at the Cozy grills 1,500 to 2,500 of the miniature burgers each day in a 15' x 15' building. On holidays and weekends, those numbers rise to 2,500 to 3,000 a day. Each burger is cooked on the same cast-iron grill the Cozy has used since it opened in 1922.
The story goes that in the 1940s the owners tried to put in a new grill, but to no avail. Customers demanded that the old one be returned to use. The new one did not have enough of the onion flavor grilled in. As the years have gone by, the fame of the Cozy burgers has spread nationally.
The restaurant still has the same six porcelain bar stools, counter, and wood cupboards that were installed in 1922. Recently, Cozy management decided to reinstall a walk-up window on the side of the building along with outside picnic tables, to help deal with the overflow crowds.
The original walk up window opened right above the grill onto the front sidewalk and you could buy Cozy's literally, hot off, of the grill. Health department rules changed in the early 70's and no longer allowed serving of Cozy's across the grill.
Ron Vawter, of Salina, says some of his earliest memories are of walking with older cousins to the Cozy, getting a bag of burgers and walking around, reaching into the sack and eating them one by one. That was when he was 6 years old. Now, at age 55, he says he goes for a Cozy at least once a week.
In their first few decades of existence, Cozy burgers sold for a nickel each, or six for a quarter.
Longtime customers swap memories over the Internet. Former Kansas's residents order batches and have them mailed across the nation; the restaurant promises to have them frozen, packed on ice and delivered within 24 hours.
For many years, local Salina businesses prohibited their employees from going inside the Cozy for lunch, for fear the strong smell of onions would distract other employees when they returned to work.
Now for a Customer's Point of View…
I have been going to the Cozy Inn for better than twenty years. Even today, I still enjoy breaking in a new Cozy Customer. To do that you have to go in July when the temperature is well into the 90's and the grill is going full blast.
The small quarter size burgers, which are made up of fifty-percent onion, are cooked right on the grill in front of you. I mean right, square in front, less than three feet away. All of the steam and onion smell from 55 sliders, drifts right under your nose, and into your clothes.
You cannot imagine the onion smell generated when 55 burgers are cooking all at one time. All seems well until you go outside and smell your clothes. Then you realize what everyone else does sooner or later… you are taking home a free souvenir from the Cozy Inn.
Word of Caution
If you are in a hurry do not stop and get a Cozy. Many a customer has stopped, grabbed a sack, sat them on the seat beside them, and planned to eat while driving. It only takes a few miles to realize that was not a good plan.
Things will go from bad, to worse if you have either the heater or A/C on. The smell then circulates through the entire car and for the next six months every time the heater or A/C comes on you are reminded of the Cozy Inn. You also have to be careful about setting a full sack of Cozy's on the front seat. The smell is easily and quickly absorbed into the upholstery.
On a recent visit, I had to ask what the biggest order was from a single customer. Without much thought…45 dozen was the reply! So… what is the record for a single person at one sitting was my next question… We have guys, come in and get twenty at a time and eat them, for lunch.
Cozy Burgers are addicting. Once you have had one you will crave them for the rest of your days, and no matter how bad they smell you will keep going back. Unlike the White Castle Hamburgers, which were also started in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, the Cozy Burgers are much leaner and have their own unique flavor.
If you want to try a Cozy for yourself stop off at 108 North 7th Street, Salina Kansas. Need driving directions? They are available at cozyburger.com, the official web site.