Country Kitchen, the Massapequa restaurant where I’ve worked as a hostess for five years, and the place my family has dined countless times since I was a little girl, will serve its last meal Oct. 24, 2010.

On that day, the smell of an -apple-crisp-scented candle burning in the lobby will be gone. The quaint country knickknacks and decor, along with the patriotic theme and flags representing the different branches of our armed forces, will be gone. The kind, personable staff that has kept the store running won’t be there.

When it came time for my first job, I returned to the place where I came for Saturday morning breakfasts before pumpkin picking or attending my brother’s Long Island Broncos football games. I have created invaluable memories, made lifelong friends, met some truly memorable customers and learned classic Italian recipes from the best cook I know, Josephine Cretty.

The decision to close the store, a franchise that is independently owned, came as a result of a weak economy, high expenses and personal issues, say the Crettys, who have owned the restaurant for 23 years, first as Pancake Cottage and for the last 13 years as Country Kitchen.

“I believe we have given the community good food for good value and warm, personal service that is hard to come by these days,” Curt Cretty said. “Our customers make us feel rewarded for all of our hard work over the years. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something.”

Over the years, Curt and Josephine have given back to the community in more ways than one. They have raised money for disabled veterans, donated money to the Salvation Army and to local churches, donated gift cards as raffle prizes for community fundraisers and hosted breakfasts for local Boy Scout troops and baseball teams.

“It reminds me of a “Cheers” place,” said Cathy Allegro of Massapequa. “I’ve been coming here for years because I feel comfortable and I know everyone. I’m going to miss it a lot.”.

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Other customers, like Ed McKeon of Farmingdale, shared in the disbelief. “It’s the end of an era,” he said. “This is my home. Anywhere else I’d be lost.”

What are the Crettys going to do with their newfound free time? “We’re recharging our batteries,” Curt said with a laugh. “We put in 80 to 90 hours a week here and we are excited to just relax, do some traveling and spend more time with our families.”

The Crettys have two sons and four grandchildren, all of who have worked at or visited the restaurant an infinite number of times.

A steady following of customers over the years have become “extended family,” as well, Curt said.

Country Kitchen has seen its share of marriage proposals, birthday parties, communion celebrations and family.

“We like to feel that we have been an important piece of the puzzle in providing the community with a needed local restaurant and hope people remember us for this and keep the patriotic spirit alive here in the community.” Curt said.

Me? I have become a part of another family. There aren’t words enough to express my appreciation for all that Curt and Josephine have done for me and my co-workers. I speak on behalf of the community when I say that “gratitude” is not a strong enough word.

Still, thank you, Curt and Josephine.

Jennifer Fauci is a freelance writer who lives in Seaford