Luanne Hildebrandt Keeps Iconic Augusta Food Store Going
By Gary Kauffman
When Nicholas Hildebrandt opened a grocery store on Sixth Street, Augusta and the rest of the South were still recovering from the Civil War, Reconstruction and carpetbaggers.
That was in 1879 and now, 135 years later, Hildebrandt’s has become an iconic fixture of Augusta, the second-oldest downtown business (only Platt’s Funeral Home is older). The store doesn’t sell as many groceries as it once did, but a lot more specialty sandwiches, most notably those of German origin.
Nicholas Hildebrandt sold his grocery store to his German-immigrant nephew, also named Nicholas, in 1902. The business passed to his wife, Edna, and then his son, Louis. Today, Louis’ daughter and the original Nicholas’ great-great niece, Luanne, runs the business.
For most of its existence, Hildebrandt’s sold groceries. A lack of time led to the business becoming a sandwich shop.
Lacking time to go home to eat, Louis often made himself a sandwich from his stock of deli meats. The sandwiches looked so appetizing to customers that they began ordering them. About 25 years ago the business became primarily a lunch counter.
German meats, shipped from Milwaukee, are a staple and the King Louis – a four-meat, two-cheese sandwich – is one of the favorites. German potato salad is another staple.
The business still offers odds and ends of grocery items, an array of antiques and plenty of eclectic seating. Portraits of Hildebrandt family members, some going back more than a century, line one wall.
It has become an iconic Augusta fixture that the locals point visitors to when asked for a local place to eat.
Luanne has been an integral part of the business for the past 40 year, although it wasn’t her first choice for a career.
As the oldest daughter, she wanted to get away and attended colleges in Minnesota and Illinois, and then taught parochial school in Connecticut. She eventually returned to Augusta as an elementary education teacher. In 1972-73 she went to school in Oregon.
While she was on the West Coast, a friend told her that her parents, who were running the store by themselves, needed some help. She returned to “straighten things out” until her brother could take over the store. But he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 1979, and she continued her role in the family business.
When her father died in 1993, Luanne knew it was up to her to continue the family business.
What are you passionate about in your business?
Giving everybody a good experience, doing their sandwich right, the way they want it.
Are there any special pressures or benefits from being in a business with a long family tradition?
Knowing that the family has been involved in the business as long as it has makes me want to keep it going. The business has been tough the past couple of years, but now that there is some family involved there’s a fresh outlook.
For years we were the only Hildebrandts around even though it’s a common German name. We hosted a Hildebrandt reunion here in 2011 and people from all over and Germany came. Some of the first Nicholas’ great grandchildren came.
My grandfather was known to take in any of his nephews; he was the one everyone looked to for help even if he didn’t have much himself. He was even known to give up his bed to the preacher when he came to town. So it’s an inspiration.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
When I lived in Oregon I lived in a tent and camped out on a beach. I call that my hippy phase. But when I was growing up you couldn’t get me to sleep in a tent. I slept in the car when we went camping.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best is meeting people. The worst is the hours because everything we serve we make here. It’s been much better the last few years with Fred and Joyce here, and the seating up front.
What is one thing you always make sure you pack in your suitcase?
How do you give back to the community?
We try to support some non-profit organizations, and we support some fundraisers, sometimes by furnishing lunches.
What does the future hold for you and Hildebrandt’s?
I hope to be able to work another four or five years. I have a cousin who might be interested in the business. I want to try to keep the family involved. I think it’ll stay a sandwich business although there’s been some interest in adding breakfast.