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The first time I came by Cozine’s Grocery (402 Civic Center Drive, 619-477-8488), I was taking a picture so I’d recognize it. I wanted to come back and try the fried chicken someone had told me about.

So I’m clicking away when a car cruises up. Guy watches me.

“What’re you doing?”

“Jes’ taking a picture.”

“Because if you’re going to change anything, don’t. If you want to buy Cozine’s out or try to tear them down, don’t. We won’t allow it.”

I end up talking with the guy. He says everybody watches out for Cozine’s. “They’ve always been there for us, the community. Cash checks, groceries, pay bills, whatever, Jack does it. Nobody better mess with Jack. We love him.”

“Actually,” I say, “I just want to try his chicken.”

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So tonight – and this is a Friday – I’m back at this corner grocery. Old building, but smartly painted blue and white.

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“Since 1978,” it says on the sign. “Try our fresh BBQ and fried chicken.”

It’s an old line neighborhood grocery. The kind where you see “Checks cashed. Western Union. Money Orders.” You know this ain’t no chain.

And as soon as you’re inside, there’s Jack, the owner, with his son Joseph right there at the counter, with a line.

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Jack, Joseph

The good news? They still have plenty of tortas and sandwiches. The bad news? They’re out of chicken, BBQ, fried, spicy, whatever.

“We’ve been through 70lbs already,” says Jack. “We don’t cook unless we sell it all. It’s fried fresh every hour till we run out. Sorry.”

“You missed something,” says George.

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George Gaytan, from Elidia's Bakery

He’s bringing fresh bread supplies. Elidia’s Bakery in City Heights.

“But I can do you a sandwich,” says Jack.

And he does.

Makes me up a “Cozine’s Market Special” ($4.99)...

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...with ham, pastrami, cheese, plus I get some turkey, lettuce, jalapeños as well. And extra cheese. In big thick wads of rye bread. Toasted. Comes to $5.99.

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“We are Chaldean,” says Jack. “We came from Nazaria, near the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham came from. We bought this in 1978, but Ed Cozine had started it in 1930. Same building..."

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Founder Ed Cozine and family in front of his store, 1930

"...For the first eight years after we bought it, we had no day off. In the 34 years since 1978, I have had only one week off, in Hawaii, 1987. But my kids, Joseph and his brothers and sister, are all professionals. Joseph has a degree in criminal justice. But he still helps out."

I ask Jack why he doesn’t put tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk, so people like me can sit down and eat.

“It needs permissions, but they’re talking of re-zoning,” says Jack. “Maybe soon, lots of restaurants in this area.”

All the time, customers are coming in and leaving. “Hi Jack.” “Bye, Mr. Jack.” “Hey Jack!”

Me, I’m heading out and snapping a couple of pics of the signs just as a couple of kids zip up on their bikes. “Why are you taking pictures? Don’t change anything. We love this place.”

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