Retired attorney Caspar Ewig is keeping a century-old Cooperstown tradition alive.
Ewig, 79, assumed operation of the Cooperstown Diner in 2020. The diner celebrated its 100-year anniversary on Dec. 9, 2021.
“I was a maritime attorney until February 2017,” Ewig said. “The firm … wanted the desk for the younger crowd and they retired me, so then, because my late wife was a Cooperstown fan and always loved it and wanted to come up for retirement and we’d bought a house, I came up in ’17.
“I realized retirement without a hobby or someone to share it with was boring and dull, the pandemic came about and the restaurant was shut down in February 2020,” he continued. “The prior operator, Cindy Bissel, had decided she’d had enough and (property and LLC owners), the Hayfords, were looking for somebody to operate it and I was looking for something to do; that’s how we made a deal.”
Though Ewig said his “prior restaurant experience was minor,” he said he has enjoyed the challenge, amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’d had a couple clients who were restaurateurs, so I wasn’t totally unfamiliar,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since basically April 2020 and opened up at that Memorial Day. It was a disastrous first year, as you can imagine, but I managed to hang on by the grip of my teeth. (During the pandemic), we were only allowed to do takeout and you can’t run a restaurant just on takeout, but slowly but surely they opened up the rules and, as soon as they did, the Mohican Club allowed me to use the driveway between (the properties) for outdoor seating. We were able to put the same number of tables I have inside, outside, and toward the end of 2020, I had a fair amount of tables and a pretty good operation.”
The diner, Ewig said, is open year-round and known for its breakfast, served all day. The diner’s “humongous” 13-ounce burger, he said, is also a customer favorite.
“Our specialty is breakfast and a couple of breakfasts that we’re really known for are the hash and eggs — our cook makes our own hash and our own sausage gravy — and pancakes and all kinds of omelets,” he said.
Ewig said, though new to restaurant ownership, he “wanted to add a little pizazz” to the diner menu.
“I came in and I added some egg dishes,” he said. “Greek eggs, which are poached eggs, or eggs however you want, over spanakopita. That’s gone over quite well. And what I call Georgia eggs, which is eggs Benedict except, instead of hollandaise sauce, we use sausage gravy.
“And I encourage the staff to come up with ideas,” Ewig continued, “so they came up with a chili and cheddar cheese omelet, and that went like wildfire. We always try to do unique specials.”
Ewig said, though customer demographics shift with Cooperstown’s seasonal tourism influx, he’s been embraced by his adopted community.
“The only reason I didn’t do as well this summer as before the pandemic was the crowds in Cooperstown weren’t as great, but on the other hand, I had days where I had to send people away,” he said, noting that the diner seats 30. “It’s a total dichotomy: from after Columbus Day to Memorial Day, (customers) will be what you’d call locals, and that includes … (people from) about a 40-mile radius: Walton, Utica and that area. The Cooperstown Diner definitely has its own reputation that people come for. Everybody has said it’s as good as it always was and has thoroughly enjoyed it. You get you share of complaints — you can’t avoid that — but we’ve gotten some really rave reviews.”
Ewig said, while hopeful for the diner’s future, he wants, too, to continue honoring its legacy. It’s 100th birthday, he said, was commemorated based on a Dec. 9, 1921 groundbreaking announcement in the Otsego Farmer newspaper.
“I’ve got a couple things I’m working on … and I’m trying to expand my wintertime audience,” he said. “I am looking for that, but my purpose is really to make sure the diner continues giving excellent food, the quality food that everyone expects.
“It says something (that it’s lasted 100 years),” Ewig continued. “The diner has always been a place to meet for locals to have a hangout. There are a lot of other restaurants that open for the summer then close. I almost consider it a public service that I stay open — I’m open seven days a week — and I look at that as a payback; that’s something the diner owes to the town. (Its) reputation is well deserved; Cindy Bissel, for the last 20 years, ran really a very good diner, and her predecessors. It was always a family-owned diner, so that … it developed its own charm and its own personality. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One of the things I want to do is keep that personality, because it was something that attracted me long before I started working here. I enjoy it and want to keep that going.”
Cooperstown Diner is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday through Thursday, and 6 to 7, Friday. For more information, call 607-282-4367, visit cooperstowndiner.com or find “Cooperstown Diner” on Facebook.