(February 9, 2019)
By J Kirk Richards
I was standing in admiration of the obviously fresh produce at the Saturday Magnolia Square Downtown Market – the J & H Simple Living family farm still has to buy its fresh tomatoes – and other produce from a Plant City (70 or so miles down Interstate Four) farm and not the usual sad suspect, Lakeland’s Publix Grocery Store warehouse – John Pellerin explains. “Our own produce just isn’t ready yet.” His wife Hilda was fussin’ the last measures on the produce side of their big tent back near 2nd Street (far from the former veggie stand on First Street, now seemingly gladly gone). The side of the J & H operation nearest 2nd Street is occupied with condiments of all kinds and a display of tempting farm-fresh eggs. John was – and rightly so – so proud of his two-months (said Hilda) sojourn in Sanford. John goes by truck to Plant City Thursdays to pick up just-picked produce and goes to Mims on Friday to sell their wares there and then it’s Sanford’s turn.
“What we don’t sell Saturday in Sanford” – the zucchini and yellow squash practically yelled they were so fresh – “we donate after we leave here at Magnolia Square.” We do not hold over our produce for another week.” His pride shines through. We were just beginning to talk about the fresh-baked butter bread, but I was captured by Christina Hollerbach.
Now, Christina is the daughter of local business standouts Linda and Theo Hollerbach who are the proud parents of three – count ’em – three thriving downtown enterprises. The WillowTree Cafe, Magnolia Square Market deli and the mother-daughter show which evolved from a jewlery-making operation into a German haberdashery. A fourth enterprise on the block stretching from the First Street alleyway running up the block to Magnolia Square began as an ever-expanding stand-alone soup-and-Sandwich shop, Willow Tree, more than a decade ago when the former Disney World employees envisioned the modest Sanford shop as a gateway to their lives’ dreams – their own place.
Expansion after expansion. A thriving German homestyle restaurant with its own brand of musical entertainment – both inside and outside and a magical built-to-order bar – about which more later – makes this destination eatery high up on must-visit lists throughout Central Florida and beyond. Sun-Rail train service from the Deltona/Deland environs southward through Sanford and Lake Mary extends to the Amtrack stations in Sanford and Winter Park and Orlando onward from Orange County’s glitz to Osceola County and right next-door to The Mouse Factory called Disney World beginning just past Kissimmee/St. Cloud and brings annually all kinds of visitors from Europe who fly into both our international airports, burgeoning Orlando-Sanford and already burgeoned – and still bursting at the seams – Orlando International. Hearing German spoken throughout Sanford, not just in Willow Tree, hasn’t been unusual for years. Shouldn’t be much of a surprise: after all German is the most – if not the second-most – popular place from which Europeans finally came to America.
And with curbside access to beer and wine on tap from the second-such Hollerbach enterprise, Magnolia Square Market, Christina says, the already wildly popular True German Deli, in the prhaseology of master dreamer Theo and his temptress baking goddess and business-acumen-ladened Rollins College Business School’s featured alum, Linda, was just a start.
Bigger plans than Linda and Christina’s love of jewelry – and German costumery – makes the Hollerbach imprimaturish-leap from String Theory to all things creative outside the kitchen just about to happen. Sometime soonerishly – October – Christina hints, The Hunting Lodge should open. By then the regulatory hoops hopefully will be negotiated, and the corner space from WillowTree to Magnolia Square will be filled with a brand new venue, just behind Jimmy & Ekhard’s bandstand where the boys play and, well, play. Dancing often occurs before their modest stand where accordion accompanies a variety of musical must- sees and hears take place. What Christina said about The Hunting Lodge is better explained on the family’s Hollerbach websites.
But that is not the point of this ramble – looking for all the world like another testimonial of which all places Hollerbach have had a goodly share.
Christina, from a perspective of upcoming birthday, a place on Love Your Shorts, Sanford’s internationally famous film festival leadership just up the street at what I learned to call The Ritz theater and now with a much more toitier hoity name of a local beer distributor’s largess, has continued to throw herself into the cultural and educational affairs of our no-longer charmingly small community. Probably pushing 70,000 citizens these days I think, as Christina tugs me away from the vegetable stand to let her coo and ahh at a pair of young people bundled a bit in their proud parents’ side-by-side baby stroller. Christina who looks as if she is proud of her workout efforts – and hubby Matthew Simmons’ workout regimen as well – does not know how to hold back. Enthusiasm blushes when held up near her. The plans for Willow Tree’s newest entry into entertainment and gastronomy are but a start. Further revamping – and expansion of the all-important and heretofore seemingly short-shrifted “necessary” facilities located now down a modest hallway from the main dining area, will undergo not just a transformation but a much less-modest relocation. Upstairs looks like future-plans afoot. And some hint about a rooftop beer garden – a gleam in Theo’s eyes when The Century still was a toddler comes drifting from the gleaming daughter’s smile, as she tugs yet again this old – but still new, actually, friend towards the restaurant’s front doors as she goes in search of teaorcoffee and I to the library to grin hugely at this young (ha!) waif (ha! ha!) who has grown so much. She bubbles over the growth of The Sanford Women’s Club in new – and younger – membership. She chatters on about plans to celebrate General Sanford Memorial Library’s longtime curator Alicia Clarke’s coming retirement and the rush to wind up – and reel in – plans for further efforts to preserve and expand Sanford’s unique position in Central Florida history.
And she hints negotiation are apace to bring a local honor to Sanford’s Hall of Fame baseball star, Tim Raines. Go visit Christina on Facebook and Hollerbach.com and see for yourself. Call up and order some soup-sandwich-salad and mosey over to The Deli to delight yourself with dreams of an Eisbein sitting in the cooler, all wrapped up and ready for you to take home and cook yourself.
(All misspellings, misappropriations of The Truth and mis-announcements are the fault of the author and not Christina Hollerbach-Simmons. Even the tale of how her latest cat adopted her.
Oh, yes. That Magical Bar on the far (eastern) side of WillowTree Cafe? Waited so long for a place to rest a weary elbow. It’s days – more like months or year(s?) are numbered. A new bar at The Hunting Lodge will free up more dining space with a service-bar to make sure guests get their grog – or other liquid refreshment – ever earlier will levitate toward the swinging back doors to the kitchen. About that kitch: it’s gonna grow. Hollerbach’s isn’t just one kitchen now. But more comes. Christina nearly giggles but stifles that with a growing glee with plans and plans and plans. Mentions something about “Twenty-Twenty,” apocryphally. Go. Let Theo or Linda or ‘Tina tell you. And if you ask she might even tell you of the migration of Chris from his many stations all the way to Deli-dom. He and I had a wonderful – but brief – time as he told me of his 10 years now “with The Company!” getting into his new ride in the parking lot behind The Ritz en route to an early afternoon departure to other pursuits, pursuits, he says, realized by his association with The Hollerbach Family. Go search Chris out at The Deli and watch his warm smile.