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At A Popular Sanford Restaurant, Politics Is Washed Down With Pilsner

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Theo Hollerbach is the chef and owner of Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Theo Hollerbach is the chef and owner of Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

At a German restaurant in the heart of Sanford the diners are united by food and beer but divided on the presidential candidates and their politics.

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café is a Sanford staple. It has a noisy, beer-hall like atmosphere, a crowded front patio, and customers who come from miles around,  even out of state, to eat German food, drink German beer, and talk.

Theo Hollerbach grew up in Germany, and became an American citizen in 1977 after serving in the US army.

Now he owns the restaurant, and an art and gift shop and a delicatessen.

Hollerbach has voted in every election since 1977. He said this election is the noisiest he’s seen.

“Now I think it’s overwhelming for people, because there’s so many choices, and the status quo is just not making anyone happy,” he said.

“They want change. And the change that they have a chance to get, I’m not sure that’s the right kind of change.”

As a business owner, Hollerbach said he’s concerned about education and healthcare. Those are the issues he wants the next president to focus on.

Hollerbach said he’s worried about practical things, like making sure his 84 employees- some of whom are in their twenties – can save for retirement.

“I’m trying to figure out how to provide them with 401 Ks and how to provide them with better insurance and more vacation time so they can figure out a way for them to get educated and  do stuff with their lives. Half of them don’t know how to balance a check book!” 

The lunch crowd at the restaurant thinned out, but some diners lingered over their meals.

Roland Woerner and his wife were on vacation from Pennsylvania.

They were born and raised in Germany and they came to Hollerbach’s for a taste of the old country, and to catch up with friends.

Woerner said he was not impressed with what he’d seen so far in the primary campaign.

“This backstabbing, name calling, it’s not doing me any good,” said Woerner.

“I’m retired, and I like to know what’s going on for the seniors, especially the veterans,” he added.

Woerner said he thinks President Obama has done a good job in his second term. But his good friend across the table, Euguen Schlecht, didn’t share his views.

Schlecht, who lives in Ormond Beach, said his biggest concern is the economy

“The Republicans have to get it together and defeat the Democrats, or else we’ll be in really tough shape with all these trillions of dollars of debt,” said Schlecht.

He said he will probably vote for Ted Cruz in Florida’s primary, and in November too.

“I would hope so, but I hope he gets past the primaries.” 

At another table, Sanford resident Mary Lou Hampton and a friend were finishing lunch.

Hampton said she’s watching the election closely, and hoping the next president can improve the lot of ordinary Americans.

“Not putting Obama down because I think he did his best,” said Hampton.

“But we’re just kind of hoping for a big voice that can give us some of the things we need in life, you know?”

Hampton said she wants better healthcare for Veterans. She’s also worried about the homeless, and the job market.

“Me, I’ve always been a person that can go out and get a job,” said Hampton.

“I graduated high school, I’ve got some college. I even had a government job at Martin Marietta Aerospace,” said Hampton.

“[The jobs are] just not there now,” she added.

“The number one thing people need jobs and work to take care of their families.” 

Hampton said the candidate who’s getting her vote right now is Hillary Clinton. She’s not impressed with the personal insults thrown in the primary, although she said she sometimes wonders if a political outsider would be a better choice for president.

The list of candidates and issues is almost as long and complex as the menu at Hollerbach’s, but there’s one thing at least the diners can agree on. They’ll come back to share food and friendship at this popular Sanford restaurant.

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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie