5 Star Stories: 3 generations of love lead to hall of fame induction for the Cozy Corner Restaurant

Updated: Jul. 7, 2020 at 9:49 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s a delicious tale of a family who’s truly cornered the market on barbecue. The Cozy Corner Restaurant has been around for more than four decades, and the matriarch behind the business is finally getting the honor she deserves.

Desiree Robinson has a lot to be happy about these days, spending most of her time now taking it easy.

“I sit on this porch and just, I look at the trees and the houses, it’s just beautiful,” said Desiree.

A much-deserved respite after years being what many consider “the face” of the Cozy Corner Restaurant, greeting customers and holding up her late husband’s standards.

The legendary barbecue restaurant on North Parkway is a stone’s throw from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It opened in 1977 with her husband, Raymond, at the helm.

“So my husband said one day ‘one of us needs to go to work, get a job, and the other one needs to run the business,‘” said Desiree.

She said it was an easy decision -- she would get a job.

“So he did a great job of running it, and I did great,” said Desiree. “I retired from AT&T.”

While Desiree worked to provide a steady income for the family, Raymond and their two children, Val and Ray Jr., got the restaurant up and running. And soon their delicious barbecued ribs, smoked Cornish game hen and seared bologna sandwiches gained a loyal following and a reputation as one of the best in the city.

“He loved to cook, and he told me one day, I was sitting down like now, he said ‘I love to cook. Cooking for me is not a chore. I enjoy cooking.' I tried to keep him happy,” said Desiree. “Let him cook! And honey, he could cook.”

But there were life-changing obstacles ahead.

This multi-generational family business has survived a lot of trying times that might have brought a lot of other businesses down.

In 2001, Raymond died suddenly from a heart attack. In 2015, the business was severely damaged by an electrical fire.

And now in 2020, it’s a pandemic.

But in the middle of the pandemic, a spark of joy. Desiree recently learned she’ll be inducted into the American Royal’s Barbecue Hall of Fame.

“Excited, undeserving, excited,” said Desiree. “I just get excited every time I think about it because it’s wonderful. And I know he’s laughing and grinning. Raymond is, I don’t know what he’s, he’s doing the flip flops. ‘What, my wife, running the business and got all the children involved.' We got four generations of family here in Memphis, and everybody supports the business in one way or the other.”

Bobby Bradley is Desiree’s grandson and the manager of Cozy Corner.

“You know, I spent my whole childhood here,” he said.

He is thrilled about what he considers a well-deserved honor for his grandmother who, along with his mother, Val, have given him full support to handle the business now.

“Pretty much from day one they were like ‘Hey, we’re tired. You take it, go. We love you and we trust you,‘” said Bobby.

And though, at 35 years old, he’s nowhere near ready to retire, he hopes when the time comes the family legacy that started with the love and hard work of his grandparents and parents will continue.

“I mean, I’m third generation,” said Bobby. “And hopefully, the next generation will pick up wherever I leave off and take it further than I can.”

“For all of you out there that haven’t seen my grandmother in a long time and you miss her and love to see her and talk to her, know that she loves you all and she appreciates you all and what you all have meant to her life is invaluable,” said Bobby. “Just know that.”

Bobby closed down the Cozy Corner’s dining area again weeks ago after he first noticed the numbers of coronavirus cases rising again. But there’s plenty of room inside to put in your order and social distance while waiting.

Desiree is officially being inducted into the American Royal’s Barbecue Hall of Fame this September in Kansas City, Missouri.

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