Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen
Today's story is about an iconic sign on a favorite restaurant. The Cozy Inn restaurant is one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the United States still operating in the same location. It is also a favorite destination for local residents and visitors to Janesville.
To owners, Tom and Amanda Fong, so many of the patrons are like family. They've seen five generations from one family coming in for lunches and dinner! When Tom's mother took over the business in 1974, an older gentleman used to bring in his grandkids to the restaurant. Now THEY have children and they’re going out to eat at Cozy Inn.
The success of the business is due to the wonderful teamwork of the Fongs, though Tom will freely admit that it is really Amanda who keeps the gears turning.
This morning, JNB signs arrived early to get started on their work of installing the newly repaired and refurbished Cozy Inn sign.
Interview with Rob - Installation and Service Manager of JNB Signs
We removed the sign a couple of weeks ago and took it to our shop. Then we refurbished it and made all new neon and a whole new frame out of aluminum.
We cleaned it up, especially the old-style faces, the “Chop Suey” lettering behind the lights, which are very old and made of porcelain. They don’t even make that kind anymore.
We started around 8 am, and should be done in the early afternoon. It’s about a five to six hour job.
By the time we get done, it'll be all lit up!
Interview with Tom Fong – Co-Owner and Chef of Cozy Inn
I arrived early in the morning to open the door for my supply man and I noticed they had blocked off some of West Milwaukee Street with cones! I had forgotten that this was the time they’d be bringing it over.
It’s been a long time since it was lit up, like a few decades ago. For the longest time, only one side of the sign was lit. But the street was a one-way, and it lit up facing the drivers, so it didn’t matter.
There was once a city ordinance that if you took a business sign down, then you couldn’t put it back up with it sticking out from the wall. So, when the YMCA redid their sign, I became curious and thought maybe we’d fix ours. By then, the ordinance had been lifted.
But it really was Jackie Wood who encouraged me to get it done and told us about the “Backing Historic Restaurants” national grant, which she'd heard about from Rich Fletcher.
Jackie then connected me with Rich Fletcher, of Roam Around Tours, who wrote the grant and started the process.
We applied for the grant, which is funded by American Express, and we won! It was a wonderful collaborative effort.
There were 25 grants given throughout the country, but we were the only restaurant in Wisconsin given the grant.
Some of the other restaurants that received the grants were in Illinois, California, New York and the oldest Chinese restaurant, which is in Montana, also received this grant.
I’m excited about our new sign! Hopefully, it’s lit up tonight!
Stop down for lunch or dinner at Cozy Inn and follow them on Facebook!
Click on gallery photos to enlarge.