Cozy Kitchens: Making Customers Happy For Generations
Nathan Neal still remembers, as a small child, playing inside the cabinets that his father, Cliff Neal, would craft when his business was just getting off the ground back in the early 1980s.
Back then, Nathan would watch as his dad worked out of a small building down the road from where the Cozy Kitchens Group now sits along Kitty Hawk Road – Cliff working with his hands to provide customers with products he took the utmost care and pride in making.
“My dad loved woodworking,” Neal says of his father, who passed away in January of 2017 after decades of dedication to a trade that was not only in his blood, but as it turns out, in his son’s as well.
Now, as the younger Neal takes a break in the Cozy Kitchen’s 25,000-square-foot design center tucked in a serene setting near the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, the business his father started all those years ago continues to thrive as a family-owned and operated business it has always been – one that has beaten the odds, from floods to fires, to put customers first in everything they do.
Cliff Neal moved to the Outer Banks from Florida in the early 70’s and worked locally in the building industry, soon meeting his wife Margaret and starting a family. It didn’t take him long to discover that cabinet making was where his passion was, so in the early 1980s, the Neals purchased the property where Cozy Kitchens now sits and embarked on a venture that would pass through generations.
The Cozy Kitchens Group, while it changed names over the years, continued to grow, recalls Nathan, a Manteo High School graduate who worked on and off for his father over the years but also ventured into other industries such as restaurants, pool cleaning and even a golf course job.
Still, Nathan knew his heart was always with the family business, where he would spend summers as a teenager sweeping the floors, building cabinets, then into installation and slowly climbing to a management position. “Dad loved woodworking,” he said. “I enjoy it and the feeling of completing something to make someone else happy. There is a joy you get out of it.”
Neal adds, “At some point, I always knew I’d come back to work for the family.”
That time came in September of 2003 when a fire destroyed the business. The event prompted the Neal family, including Neal’s sister Jessica Wineland who had just graduated from the Art Institute in Seattle, to set out and rebuild with the help of the community. By August of the following year, Cozy Kitchens was up and running again.
“The community came out strong,” Neal recalls. “That morning of the fire, before the flames were even extinguished, we had calls coming in to offer help and support. It just shows you the tightknit-ness of our community.”
It’s clear that from its longevity and commitment to quality and customer service, Cozy Kitchens, from the start, has considered the Outer Banks and its community a place to call home.
The Cozy Kitchens Group, which offers beautifully crafted custom cabinets, countertops, tile, flooring and appliances, is committed to customer service every step of the way, from the design stage to installation, ongoing maintenance and more. The group also provides second-to-none kitchen and bathroom renovations and remodeling.
There is no doubt that much of what the company does could easily be considered art when taking into account the attention to detail during design, construction and the installation stages. The company’s tile department is also thriving, Neal adds. “There are so many different tiles, that almost the sky is the limit. Installation is definitely an art and we have talented installers who do the work.”
As for Neal, he said his parents molded him to take over the business, and instilled in him the morals and values of respect and responsibility early in life. They’ve served him well as he has continued in his father’s footsteps through the years.
“My father liked working with his hands, he never really enjoyed the business side. But I think he slipped me into that role without me even knowing. You are kind of bred into it.”
Neal describes Cozy Kitchens as a unique company of about 22 employees. “It really runs itself, like an orchestra where all the talented musicians hear each other and don’t need to look at the conductor. We want to make the customer happy.”
Neal adds that the business has on average 250 jobs a year, almost entirely locally-based. That’s no surprise, considering the care that is put into every job. “We don’t go looking for work, the work comes to us,” he points out.
“Everyone here cares,” says Neal, whose wife, Elizabeth, is a professional photographer and together they have a 4-year-old son, Everett Gunner Neal. “We want everyone to be happy. That’s the main thing. The first rule in customer service is, ‘The customer is always right.’ Rule no. 2 is ‘Remember Rule no. 1.’”
After all, the Cozy Kitchen slogan says it all: “Perfection in cabinetry and more.”♦
Michelle Wagner has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for nearly 20 years.
See ad on inside front cover, and an example of Cozy Kitchens today on pg. 34