The name is an indicator of its heritage, but it’s the slogan that exposes the heart and soul of one of downtown’s oldest family-owned businesses, Hildebrandt’s: Part German. Part Southern. All Welcome.
Located on 6th Street, Hildebrandt’s is still operated by the family that bears its name, and it still resides in the same Gothic brick building it has occupied, next to the train tracks, for 137 years.
The German-inspired delicatessen first opened its massive doors in 1879 in the form of a local grocery store, owned and operated by Nicholas Hildebrandt. As Augusta grew and Broad Street became the center of local trade, Hildebrandt’s served a crucial role in providing daily groceries to residents, for whom refrigeration was not readily available.
By popular demand, the general store began selling sandwiches in the 1960s, and gradually emerged as primarily a delicatessen in the 1990s. Customers can still find general items in-store; some paper products, potatoes and fresh veg, bread and a few canned goods, and a few other things. But, says Rick Marschalk, the focus is on providing Hildebrandt’s customers with a unique dining experience. And they really do.
“Our value proposition is a little different from other sandwich shops and delis. We offer the flavor of high-quality meats and cheeses and popular sandwiches, such as the Reuben. So there’s that, and the unique and memorable experience.”
Dining at Hildebrandt’s is an unadulterated joy. Augusta does not have anything like this anywhere else, and that’s both wonderful for Hildebrandt’s and kinda sad for the rest of us. The deli is close to the area first developed as the main trading area of the city, and diners often get to watch the train as it travels down the road right outside the storefront. Even the building is impressive — massive, double-gabled, very handsome — and has withstood well over a century of downtown growth, recession and reemergence.
Hildebrandt’s has tapped into the German culture to bring downtown various quality sliced sandwich meats, both well-known such as pastrami, salami, buffalo chicken and corned beef, and those not-so-well-known, such as braunschweiger and yachtwurst. The deli menu caters to all tastes, and includes an equally wide variety of deserving cheeses. And there’s the bread; an arguably crucial part of the sandwich-eating experience. They do good bread.
At Hildebrandt’s, these ingredients draw people in through its terrifically old doors, but they aren’t the only reason they stay. Nor are they necessarily the only reason these customers return.
Rick Marschalk says it’s just something that has evolved and developed throughout the decades.
“You can’t get this elsewhere,” he explained. “You can’t make this.”
Marschalk, a cousin of the fourth-generation Hildebrandt and current owner Luanne, went on to explain that the deli’s purpose is to give people joy. Welcoming them to the deli is an eclectic mix of old furniture, family portraits, antiques and collectables, and large food counters and display cabinets in the center of the spacious dining area. A line of bookshelves along the left holds an array of Hildebrandt’s own merchandise, chips, drinks and a selection of sauces from other local food places, such as DiChicko’s. There’s plenty of laughter, groups of people talking and dining — the effect is a warm humming hub of conversation accompanied by the smell of good food.
Diners order at the counter — probably from Joyce Marschalk — and take a number with them to a dining table of their choice. Sit at the front and the light pours through large windows, illuminating the numerous wood tables and chairs. Sit at the back near the kitchen and you can choose from one of the square marble or wood-slab tables that make Hildebrandt’s feel more like a vast family dining room rather than a restaurant. It’s comfortable and comforting.
The menu includes classic sandwiches that customers rave about — the Reuben (featuring pastrami or corned beef) is utterly off the chain. Not one of the generously portioned ingredients overwhelms the other, and the lightly toasted, thin rye bread packs enough flavor to hold its own against the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and dressing. It’s a sandwich that makes you happy and it can easily become a habit. As can other favorites, such as the King Louis — a beast packed with four meats and two cheeses of the customer’s choosing. Unless they need help, in which case the staff will offer suggestions or even do the choosing for you.
Lunch is served fairly quickly, though a rush can slow things down a little. Customers are encouraged to call their orders in ahead of time, to include outside catering and bulk orders. The kitchen is usually working at a steady rate from 11 a.m. until closing at 3 p.m. The hours are manageable for the family, all of whom are pulling together to help keep the restaurant running smoothly. The collective effort is understandable and the additional hands are crucial, especially since Luanne is in her 70s,
Together, the Hildebrandts and Marschalks, including family historian Dr. Fred Marschalk (retired), who provides the phots of times past on the walls of Hildebrandt’s, have re-branded the store to encourage people to see beyond the name, which Rick Marschalk says can confuse folks. People who need or want to know more should definitely find the deli on Facebook and Instagram, or check out their website, which features their fabulous menu and a downloadable sandwich ordering form.
Hildebrandt’s has emerged as a multi-century tradition in Augusta, becoming a regular lunch spot for people from all over the CSRA, something the Hildebrandt’s team is keen to foster and grow throughout the community.
“We want everyone to feel welcomed at the store,” Marschalk explained, “and we want everyone to have a memorable experience and feel awesome eating one of our sandwiches. Everyone. Literally, we really do mean all welcome.”