There’s a familiar face at the helm of the Country Cottage diner, a nearly century-old staple of downtown Center Moriches.
After a two-year hiatus following a divorce, Jack Schwartz is back in day-to-day control.
Schwartz, 64, a former Hazeltine engineer who bought a parking lot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1990 that he sold only last week, bought the diner nine years ago “as a hedge” when he noticed the parking industry was changing and he was unsure if he could keep up with larger competitors.
He said the diner, with the wooden tables and small-town charm, reminded him of Rochester Cafe, a restaurant in the mountains of Vermont that he still visits when he goes up to his house in the area, “It had the same type of vibe,” Schwartz said.
Over the years, the diner has had several owners and names. Incarnations have included John’s Diner and simply Bar & Grill Diner.
According to “The Illustrated History of the Moriches Bay Area” by Van and Mary Field, the establishment dates back to around 1924, when Morris Borok, the owner of City Department Store, bought a Long Island factory-made diner and moved it next to the store. It has remained in the same location at 334 Main St.
Goal: A return to the glory days
With the goal of returning the diner “to its old glory,” Schwartz brought back chef Mike Bailey and gave the diner a minor renovation, including new internal paint job and upgrades to kitchen appliances, which was appreciated by the staff.
That includes Megan Zureck, 38, of Manorville, who is a librarian at the Riverhead Central School District during the week and has worked at the diner during the weekends for 21 years.
“It supports my horse habit,” said Zureck, a U.S. Dressage Federation gold, silver and bronze medalist.
Zureck said the restaurant has been around for so long because people enjoy the small-town feel. “It’s a friendly environment and the customers get invested in our lives.”
Some menu favorites include the crab benedict, cinnamon bun pancakes, huevos rancheros and the daily specials.
Speaking of the staff, she said: “We’re a family.”
Since returning, Schwartz said he’s been touched by the response he’s gotten from diners.
“The customers have welcomed me with back with open arms,” he said. “It’s been a remarkable treasure.”