11,000 sign petition as hope renews to save Hildebrandt’s

Rose Weldon
The management of Hildebrandt's says that the luncheonette's closure is now up in the air. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

More than 11,000 people have signed a petition to save Hildebrandt’s, the 93-year-old Williston Park luncheonette that announced its closure last week.

On the heels of renewed hope for the beloved spot, the restaurants’ operators say they are looking into having the building named a landmark.

The restaurant’s owners said last week in a now-removed a post on its Facebook page that it would “no longer be in business within the next few months.”

The closing was said to be due to the building’s landlords deciding to sell it, and the new owners “creating something different.” It was explicitly stated that the closure was “unrelated to COVID-19.”

Now, the restaurant’s management said in a Facebook post that it is looking at ways to have the building named a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

“With whatever time we may have we are working to make Hildebrandt’s a landmark so even when the building is sold, it will ALWAYS remain our beloved place,” the Facebook post read.

The shop reported in another Facebook post that the original buyer who intended to close the shop has “backed out of the deal,” though the building as a whole remains for sale.

Andrew Cronson, 23, created the Change.org petition, which over 11,000 people have signed.

“Considering that the new owners will be completely redoing the building, there is a very high chance that both the Hildebrandt’s business and the historic structure will be lost for good,” Cronson wrote in a statement that accompanying the petition. “Despite being next to the East Williston Village Historic District, the site itself was never evaluated or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also not landmarked locally with the Town of North Hempstead which would have provided protection from any inappropriate exterior alterations. Lacking an appointed historian for the Town of North Hempstead for nearly a year, it is up to the community to be that critical advocate for preservation. Ideally, it would also be important if they do close permanently that the site be documented and any ephemera be donated to an archival repository where it can be retained.”

First opened by Henry Hildebrandt in the late 1920s, the restaurant was sold to Alma Steffens in the 1950s. Steffens then sold it to Helen Baum in 1974, and Baum sold it to Alfred and Joanne Strano in 1975.

The Stranos later sold it to their daughter Susan, who owned and operated it with her husband, Bryan Acosta, from 2007 until her death in 2015. Since then, Acosta has kept the store going with his and Susan’s daughter, Hunter.

Films like the Naomi Watts-starring “The Book of Henry” and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” have used the shop’s frozen-in-time interiors to evoke a cozy soda fountain aesthetic.

In 2011, the restaurant was featured on the Food Network program “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” with manager Tom Bauman showing host and chef Guy Fieri a process of making butter pecan ice cream. Former owner Joanne Strano also appeared, making sauce and fried mozzarella with the chef. Fieri praised the location as “timeless.”

The restaurant said in a subsequent Facebook post on Saturday that while they “do not know if [they] will remain open,” they were grateful for the outpouring of support in recent days.

“We are doing our absolute best,” the post read. “We want to keep this business for the love and memories built around it.”

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