The Cottage: 61 years of burgers, beer, and breakfast

Tri-Cities Original

We’ve all heard the saying, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

A Tri-Cities business is proving that to be true, but it is about to begin a new chapter.

The Cottage restaurant, located at 705 W. Market St. in Johnson City, has been around since 1958. It hasn’t changed much since.

“The Cottage has always been known for its hamburgers,” a man eating lunch at the bar told us. “All you hear about is their burgers.”

But before the restaurant opened its doors in the fall of 1958, the property it now sits on was used for other things.

“It was somebody’s house at one time, ” said long-time owner Sonny Heiges. “At one time they sold tombstones here. I’ve got some if you want to see them out back.”

Sonny Heiges, long-time owner of The Cottage.

Not much changed after Sonny Heiges’ father Don bought The Cottage in the early 1970s.

“I was tickled to death because I was 15 and they sold pizzas.  I ate pizza for a solid week,” Sonny said with a laugh.

Don Heiges bought The Cottage in the early 1970s.

Don committed to providing good food and good customer service.

“Dad taught me to buy good products…that they would sell better,” Sonny said.

“We do good for a small restaurant. We make up for it by being busy,” he added.

The restaurant’s customers are loyal, like the group Sonny deemed “The Breakfast Club.”

“They come in maybe to get away from their wives a bit in the mornings,” he said.

“The food is fresh.  It doesn’t taste like cardboard you get at some of the fast food places,” a Breakfast Club regular told us. 

Members of the “Breakfast Club.”

But after 61 years, one thing is about to change. Sonny Heiges is about to retire.

“I worked to retire… I didn’t work to work,” Sonny said.

The new co-owner, Jo Rhodes, plans to keep The Cottage as it is.

“The people here are amazing. The atmosphere is amazing,” Jo said. “It’s iconic people love it the way it is and they’ll come back because of that.”

One thing she’s not ready for: life at The Cottage without the big man behind the bar.

Jo Rhodes, new co-owner of The Cottage.

“I’m nervous about him leaving, he should stay with me,” she said. “I don’t think he’s going to.”

Sonny Heiges promises that he’s not going far.

“I’m still going to be a customer. I want to be over there,” Sonny said. “I’m still going to see my friends and play golf. I plan to be here and no one else.”

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There's no place on earth quite like the Tri-Cities region. From Johnson City to Haysi, Tri-Cities Original highlights the people and institutions that make our region so unique.

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Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Josh Smith has been a member of the WJHL team since 1999. His family roots go deep in the region, and he’s traveled through almost every part of it covering news on local TV since 1995. When he’s not on the job, he’s with his wife, two sons, and daughter.   “They’re the best part of me,” he said.   You may run into them biking on the Tweetsie Trail, hiking around Bays Mountain Lake, or browsing the shelves at the local public libraries.

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