CORTLAND, N.Y. — Doug's Fish Fry has turned into the unofficial restaurant of the New York Jets at training camp.
Owner Mark Braun is a lifelong Jets fan and 12-year season-ticket holder who makes the four-hour drive from Cortland to Giants Stadium for Jets home games.
Not many people in town were happier than Braun when the Jets announced they would hold training camp at the State University of New York-Cortland. This is the first season in 40 years that the Jets have held training camp somewhere other than Hofstra University on Long Island.
"I'm excited as a business owner but more excited as a fan," Braun said. "This has by far exceeded my expectations."
He has turned this mom-and-pop fish shack — (A sign inside the restaurant reads: "We buy fresh fish direct from the fish piers in Boston and Glouchester (sic). It is trucked to us on crushed ice FIVE times a week not once or twice") — into a Jets shrine. Photos of Jets players, including players who have dined at Doug's Fish Fry adorn one wall. Street signs "Jets Blvd" and "N.Y. Jets St." hang on other walls.
Braun also brought his Jets memorabilia — signed football and helmets — to display in the restaurant.
"When I found out the Jets were coming here for training camp, I said, 'How can I make my restaurant a Jets meeting ground and be noticed by Jets fans and players?' " Braun said.
A sign in front his restaurant, just a couple of Jay Feely kickoffs from the practice field, bears the section (137) and row (7) of his season tickets and a plane pulling a "Doug's Fish Fry" banner helps draw business.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has been in. So has first-year coach Rex Ryan and a few players. Braun said business is up a "safe 25%" compared to last August.
It's not always easy being green in Cortland, which encroaches on Bills territory. The small town (population approximately 20,000) is 185 miles from Buffalo, 120 miles from Rochester and 220 miles from New York City.
Now, Cortland is turning into a Jets town, one that is expected to benefit financially from influx of fans. One estimate says the Jets' training camp stay will help bring in at least $1 million to the city.
Signs all over town welcome the Jets and fans. SUNY-Cortland president Erik J. Bitterbaum is a regular at practice.
But when Ryan decided to take the team north for camp, his goal was not to boost the economy of a small town. It was to create team chemistry in a distraction-free environment. Ryan loves the idea of getting away for camp. During his time as an assistant coach with Baltimore, the Ravens had training camp at tiny McDaniel College in rural Westminster, Md.
"The main thing in coming here was team-building, camaraderie, learning about each other, eliminating distractions," Ryan said. "We've accomplished all that here. The people here have been absolutely outstanding to our players and our coaches. They've treated us all well and opened their arms to us. The facilities here are great to hold a camp. It's really been top notch."
Ryan is not overstating the facilities. There are three practice fields — one with real grass that Jets built and two with artificial turf.
SUNY-Cortland, surrounded by verdant hills, has a fine Division III athletic program. It finished fifth in the final Director's Cup standings for its success in all men's and women's sports.
The Red Dragons are the defending men's lacrosse and men's cross country champions; Jake Zanetti won the pole vault title and gymnast Alyssa Neely won the balance beam championship. The football team reached the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs and lost to eventual champion Mount Union.
The Jets have enjoyed the experience, but have not made a commitment to 2010.
Linebacker Bart Scott, who followed Ryan from Baltimore, is helping sell the coach's makeshift home away from home.
"Ryan comes from a philosophy of getting us away from the facility so when we get back to the comforts of our facility and things the NFL allows you to have that you'll appreciate it a little bit more," Scott said. "I like getting away. It gets you out of your comfort zone, and you lean on each other instead of leaning on familiar territory."