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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Panos Bourounis, left, owner of Cosmos in the Marketplace of Canterbury, and Deano Battenberg met at the the original Cosmos on Coliseum Boulevard and have been friends since.

Regular diners, cherished friends

Restaurants like second families for their faithful

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Caliente regular Flor Guayamo has been frequenting the Cuban restaurant since it opened and is friends with the owners.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Cosmos regular Deano Battenberg, left, and family members enjoy some laughs during lunch as owner Panos Bourounis checks on them.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Caliente regular Flor Guayamo, right, laughs with Nestor Rodriguez, center, and his mother and co-owner Yalili Mesa at the State Boulevard eatery.

When Deano Battenberg underwent cancer treatments, his friend Panos Bourounis brought him food and picked up his medication.

When Bourounis got married, Battenberg was an attendant. When Battenberg got married, Bourounis was the best man.

Battenberg has known his friend for 15 years. They met when he was about 40 and Bourounis was in high school. Bourounis’ father owned the Cosmos Restaurant that had been located on Coliseum Boulevard.

Battenberg remembers watching Bourounis bus tables, back before their friendship developed, before Bourounis opened his own Cosmos in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

Now, Battenberg frequents the restaurant of that former high school worker six or seven times a week – sometimes twice a day – for breakfast and lunch.

A “regular” is something that can’t be mentioned without someone talking about the TV show “Cheers.” It seems to be the go-to definition of what a regular is; if you go some place where everybody knows your name, you’re a regular.

As Battenberg proves, it’s more than that. It’s a relationship. Regulars usually do not frequent restaurants because of the food – though that is a large portion of it. Instead, people become regulars because they enjoy the company. They likes the way the owners and employees run the business because it’s easy to forget that this place, where everybody knows your name, is a business.

Because it can seem more like home.

Flavor and character

Battenburg was first drawn to Cosmos for the food. He raves about it as though he were on Cosmos’ payroll for public relations.

“They make their soups fresh every day,” he says. “They use high-quality products. Their beef is Angus. They make their salad dressings fresh every other day. And I’m kind of a naturalist, and I don’t like a lot of canned items. Their portions are excellent. In all the time I’ve known them, I’ve never had bad food quality there.”

On top of the food, Battenburg values Bourounis’s character. He calls him caring and honest.

“When I was ill, Panos (Bourounis) would bring food to my home and just help go get medications for me,” he says. “It goes way, way, way beyond just an acquaintance of a restaurant owner. We’re kind of like brothers. We don’t take advantage of one another. It’s just a tremendous relationship.”

Despite the 30-year age difference, Bourounis calls Battenburg his best friend. When he gives Battenburg’s cell number to a reporter, he doesn’t have to look it up, rattling it off from memory instead.

He estimates that maybe 80 percent of Cosmos’ customers are regulars, coming in anywhere from twice a week to twice a day. The ones he knows best will occasionally get special treatment, he admits. He might substitute an ingredient for no additional charge or drop off a cup of coffee on the house. In at least one case, Bourounis remembers calling in a tow truck for a customer who had car trouble.

“The ones that really come in all the time, I’ll occasionally sit down and have lunch with them,” Bourounis says.

Extended family

Flor Guayamo likes sandwiches, and she likes Cuban food. When a Cuban sandwich shop opened in her neighborhood, she stopped by.

The food was good enough to keep her coming back for more, but the company made her a regular.

Guayamo has become something like family at Caliente. Owners Yalili Mesa and Gustavo Rodriguez have had Guayamo and other friends they met through the restaurant at their home for Thanksgiving. Guayamo has taken the owners’ younger son to movies. The older son recently picked her up from the airport after a trip to Florida.

“They are my friends now,” she says. “It is to me a very unique place because I know the other places where you go and just sit, where you don’t engage in the conversation. This place, being small, is very personal. You go there just to see who I can meet to talk.”

Guyamo figures she stops in three or four times a week. She frequents Caliente so often on Saturdays that on a recent Saturday when she did not go, other customers were asking where she was, she says.

“If you stop going, because I hadn’t been for a whole week, they will worry about you, and they will call you and say, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you.’ It’s just very sincere,” she says. “I can testify they don’t do it just for me. We will do it for each other.”

Colorful customers

Earlier in the week, the barista’s hair had been a faded pink. By Friday, it had become bright purple. After ordering their signature drinks – an iced mocha for Chris Dannhausen and a hot mocha for Bob Dannhausen – the men chat with the barista.

“The reason we come in here is to see what color your hair is,” Bob tells her. “You went darker! What is that? Raspberry?”

Bob and his son Chris, 24, go to Old Crown Coffee Roasters about four times a week for the coffee, Chris says, and maybe twice a month for the Friday evening dinner service, his dad adds. The men like to get together with a group of friends and take over the back room, or they may sit at the bar and chat with the employees throughout dinner.

“We walk in on a Friday night. Jen knows what our drinks are,” Bob says of co-owner Jennifer Patterson. “As soon as we walk in, (she asks), ‘The usual?’ ”

The men don’t live in the neighborhood; they drive four or five miles to the coffee shop on North Anthony Boulevard, which admittedly isn’t far, but there are certainly closer places for a cup of joe.

Co-owner Michael Woodruff can attest to the importance of location. When Old Crown originally opened, it was in the plaza across the street. He would see neighboring storeowners almost daily.

When one of them found out Old Crown was moving to its current location, about 300 feet from the former location, he informed Woodruff, “Yeah, that’s too far. I won’t be walking across the street for coffee.”

Woodruff points to two customers, employees at Belmont Beverages, which is nearby.

“I see them every day,” he says. “I’ll see them in an hour.”

As if on cue, about an hour later, one of the first two Belmont employees is back, with two other coworkers.

“Over the course of the years, I refer to it as the No. 1 unexpected benefit of our business,” Woodruff says. “When I started to do this 13, 14 years ago with Jennifer, I didn’t put in my business plan, ‘Hey, I want to get to know people,’ nor did we expect it.”

He has since found how quickly he can get to know a customer, and he has seen how the relationship can evolve.

Now, he says, “It’s the No. 1 benefit.”

jyouhana@jg.net

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