At the vintage restaurant, time stops and flies by
“We had a lot of great times at this restaurant,” says the owner of Cosmo’s Diner in downtown Thorold, which is celebrating 27 years in business.
It might be Valentine’s Day on Monday, but Karen Brookes has something bigger to celebrate: Her restaurant, Cosmo’s Diner, turns 27.
“The fact that we’re here, that we can connect and see clients who are family, who are long-time friends, we add support, we add happiness to their day,” Brookes said in a statement. interview with ThoroldToday. “It’s so touching to see how much it means to people and it’s what keeps you doing it.”
Brookes was just 27 when she opened Cosmo’s Diner on Front Street.
“I had just gone to university,” she recalls. “Very often, it was comforting to find a restaurant to spend time with friends, to decompress. I had worked in restaurants all through college, it was a natural progression. It was something that I was really passionate about, to have this space.
Cosmo’s Diner is known not only for its hearty, comfort food, but also for its ’50s decor, a style choice partly inspired by Brookes’ mother.
“Back when you were pumping gas, it would give you a little 50s music tape and she would put it in the car and play the music,” Brookes explains. “Plus, there’s a restaurant in London [ON] called Prince Albert’s Diner and it was one of my hangouts. It was a 50s restaurant. It was just that really positive feeling that I wanted to embody when you walk through the doors.
Cosmo’s Diner had just celebrated its 25th anniversary when COVID-19 changed the world forever.
“Throughout this pandemic, it has been so difficult. There were days when you were literally on your knees,” says Brookes. “The people of Niagara are absolutely what got me through this. You constantly renew your passion for what you do. You’re inspired by people’s stories, you’re inspired by what you do matters and I think that’s so important to all of us who work here.
Brookes thinks the pandemic has been a learning experience.
“I think it taught us lessons about how to improve,” she says. “It’s a matter of customer service. How can we take the love of what we do and really put it in a box? We wrote bag posts at the very beginning of the pandemic, we still do. A dinner party is really about connecting with people.
If it all had to end one day, Brookes is proud of what she’s accomplished.
“We were very lucky,” she says. “We had a very good business for 25 years before the pandemic, so if it didn’t work you can’t feel sorry for yourself. We had a lot of success, we had a lot of great moments in this restaurant. Elvis have shown up here, the Prime Minister has shown up, we’ve had some good stories.
Brookes credits the restaurant’s longevity to the restaurant’s strong sense of self.
“You really have to look at your business and see why you’re doing it, bring it back to where you started, and remember why you’re here,” Brookes says. “I think restaurateurs are a different breed. I just know that we’re the kind of people who won’t give up, and that’s what I think it boils down to: tenacity.
Although Brookes doesn’t know what the next 27 years will bring, she is confident that Cosmo’s Diner will continue to play an important role in the community.
“I’m really excited for the future right now,” says Brookes. “One thing we have learned during the pandemic is that we are not just a restaurant, we are much more than that. And we have to consider our role and how we can improve this community. I think we can do so much more, we can connect more with other business owners and support each other and highlight issues that are important in the Niagara community and be a leader in that regard.