Wilmington, DE – If the restaurant name “Kozy Korner” strikes you as familiar, it should, especially if you’re from Wilmington Delaware. Third-generation owner, John Vouras, is the latest to keep the name alive now as it nears a hundred years.
“My grandfather John Vournakis, (who changed his name to Vouras) immigrated to the United States from Sparta, Greece in 1910. He worked in the restaurant business for many years. He eventually launched Kozy Korner Luncheonette at the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Washington Avenue in 1922,” recalls grandson John Vouras.
Vournakis built Kozy Korner’s reputation that became a town favorite over the next forty-two years. “It was in the perfect spot at the right time. Downtown Wilmington was growing, there was a large wave of immigrants and a bustling center of commerce. And by the 1950s, the diner business was busier than ever,” says Vouras.
In 1964, his son Nicholas took over the family-owned eatery. It continued to attract a day time crowd, as well as student and late-night bar crawlers. Everyone came in for ice cream sodas and sundaes. They were the favorites, especially at night. Kozy Korner was known for “serving them up into the morning hours,” added Vouras.
“I started working in the original store at age 12. I learned how to make traditional Greek food in the kitchen with the Greek chef that worked for the family. Rice pudding, Pastitsio, and Avgolemono soup were some of the first Greek foods I made,” he added. Vouras described the shop that he grew up in as we sat in a booth of the current store (906 Union Street) he and his father opened in 1993.
Behind him, an old black & white photo of the original location hung proudly for customers to see. A soda fountain in the photo likely served many customers that Kozy Korner built its reputation around. A quiet moment followed as Vouras continued to dissect the history of the family Luncheonette.
“Eventually, progress and new construction pushed us out. A new hi-rise was built where Kozy Korner once was. We closed Kozy Korner in 1984,” said Vouras. By now, John was eager to move on. He had finished high school and this was an opportunity to strike out on his own. John joined the Marines and traveled the world for the next few years, but eventually came back home.
John had other aspirations now. He moved out to Los Angeles to work in the music business as a musician. There, he found the challenges and lifestyle of LA life, unbearable. So, he returned to Wilmington again. Ten years had passed since the closing of the family restaurant. The name Kozy Korner had laid dormant for a long time. But he gave it another go around with his father, whom he partnered up with this time. They relaunched and relocated Kozy Korner in 1993. The formula and name took hold again.
One look inside the new Kozy Korner that has been around now for 27 years tells the history. Old family photos and watercolors of the first establishment are everywhere. A generation of regulars, mostly seniors that used to eat at the original restaurant, is peppered throughout the dining room. A wooden Indian with a stapled menu greets you as you enter. All echos of the past. They’ve been recognized by the local newspaper and magazines that have awarded them the best of Wilmington for their service on many occasions. Kozy Korner is a living legacy as well as a testament to the history of Wilmington Delaware. It’s a place where nostalgia and neighborhood dining share common ground. “When customers come in, they look at the photos on the wall, and tell me stuff like, I went on my first date there,” says Vouras. “I get a great sense of pride when I hear that,” he added.
John Vouras still has a passion for music. He flies out to Los Angeles every year to check out the music scene. “It’s just for kicks. But it’s a lot of fun and it keeps me happy,” says Vouras. Vouras also plays locally in two bar bands on the weekends. A fan of rock and punk, he is a member of Dino and the Demolition, and 53rd & 3rd, a Ramones Tribute Band.
As John continues to manage Kozy Korner, the fourth generation is being prepared to inherit the family business. His two sons, Nicholas and Alex (ages 20 and 17) work in the store with their father. “Kozy Korner is in our blood. It’s what my family does… I grew up in this business and it comes naturally to us”.
The Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, will be hosting the Photo Tour 2020 “Greek Diners and Restaurants, the Start of the American Dream”, on March 14th, 2020, at the University of the Arts. Visit gahsp.org to find out more about this event.