The menu at Hildebrandt’s features a Reuben sandwich with a side of Augusta history.
Located at 226 Sixth St. in downtown Augusta, the former grocery store serves traditional German sandwiches piled high with pastrami, corned beef and sauerkraut.
Hildebrandt’s was founded in 1879 by Nicholas Hildebrandt as a neighborhood grocery store. It has passed through family hands to Luanne Hildebrandt, who works behind the lunch counter and greets her regular customers.
Early 20th century photos of downtown Augusta landmarks and Hildebrandt family portraits adorn the walls above lunch tables made from the store’s original marble counters.
The lunch business started in the 1960s, when Luanne Hildebrandt’s father made a sandwich from the store’s meat supply because he didn’t have time to go home for a lunch break.
In 1974, a ham sandwich cost 97 cents plus 3 cents tax. Today, a Reuben costs $4.50, a bratwurst $3.50 and the Hildebrandt’s Special – a choice of four meats and two cheeses – $4.75.
Luanne Hildebrandt and her seven siblings were raised on the second floor of the store. She started working there as a child in 1960 and, after a short time as a schoolteacher, returned in 1974.
In the past two decades, business struggled after her father died and more businesses left downtown.
“Most people came to talk to my dad. It wasn’t so much for the food,” she said.
When the courtrooms left the Municipal Building on Greene Street for the new judicial center in May 2011, the restaurant took another hit. Some attorneys have returned because they missed the food, Hildebrandt said.
In recent months, she and family members have made some additions to the store. Lunch tables in the front of the building provide more seating and a place for customers to watch the trains roll by on Sixth Street.
Hildebrandt, who is looking forward to retirement in a few years, doesn’t know what the restaurant’s future holds. She has kept it going for her ancestors and her customers.
“I felt a family loyalty to this place,” she said. “We’re still trying to make a go of it.”