In 1922, Bob Kinkel began frying his onion-laden, coin sized burgers in a tiny space located at 108 North 7th Street. Kinkel obtained the concept from White Castle, which opened the previous year in Wichita, Kansas. Kinkel's hamburgers sold for five cents and were known as "sliders", most likely from the practice of sliding the steamy sandwich down the counter on a slip of waxed paper. The six-stool diner was a success, feeding area diners seven days a week, remaining open late each night for hungry patrons leaving late night movies and dance halls in downtown Salina.

The 1930s proved to be successful for the hamburger stand, as it provided an inexpensive meal to Depression-hit Kansans. While larger restaurants were experiencing hard times and closing, the Cozy Inn thrived due to a limited menu, low overhead, and their extremely small staff.

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The opening of the Smoky Hill Air Force Base and nearby Camp Phillips in the early 1940's was a boom for the Cozy Inn. The diner provided a quick meal to the throngs of young men on soldier's pay. Even today, second and third generation military families come back to the Cozy for a burger, visit, and souvenir. It was during this time that two young Salina boys, Bob Swift and Bob Cane, began working at the joint as fry cooks. This pair went on to become major league baseball players, returning home to Salina in off-season to cook at the Cozy. Their celebrity status drew crowds to the popular diner.

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In 1960, Cozy Inn owner Bob Kinkel passed away and the legacy was passed to his wife, Katherine. She and her second husband, Richard Pickering, managed the Cozy Inn; adding the annual anniversary celebration, offering Cozy's at yesteryear prices, and drawing long lines of customers. In the 1980's, Salina downtown city renovations threatened the future of the Cozy Inn for much needed parking space. After a public outcry, the Cozy Inn was spared and an exterior restoration was completed on the building. After the Pickerings deaths, in 1997 three Salina businessmen purchased the diner. Max Holthaus, Gregg Boyle and Monte Shadwick were committed to keeping the Cozy tradition alive. The trio reopened the walk-up window and added new lines of souvenir merchandise. Shadwick left the business in 2001.

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In 2005, Holthaus and Boyle added vintage style outdoor seating and music to accommodate the steady stream of diners. The Cozy Inn is known nationally as one of the last remaining six-stool diners in America. It is accustomed to being featured in travel books, newspapers, and national magazines (recently Martha Stewart's Living and MidWest Living). In 2007, Salinan Steve Howard joined the partnership and became manager and co-owner. In April of 2007 Steve bought out Max and Gregg and became the owner of the Cozy Inn. Jan 2009, the Cozy Inn was featured on the Travel Channel's "101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down", coming in at #69. Shortly after that, the Travel Channel featured the Cozy Inn on "Americas Top Ten Hamburgers", coming in at #6. October 2010, USA Today picked the Cozy Inn as the "Best Burger Joint in Kansas". And August of 2012, the Cozy Inn received a Diamond Award from AAA.