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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Sunny Side Hut

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Walter and Mary Hollmig probably didn't know they were shaping American culture when they opened Sunny Side Hut at 204 W. Main Street in Fredericksburg. They were just trying to sell a few hamburgers.

At first glance the year 1933 may not seem like an ideal time to start a business. The Great Depression had just hit small town America right between the eyes. Both Fredericksburg banks defaulted in 1932. The economy was a mess. Money was scarce.

But the Hollmigs believed better times were just around the corner, so they opened a restaurant in the middle of the worst financial crisis in history. To survive they learned to be thrifty and creative in attracting customers.

Mary Hollmig named the business Sunny Side Hut. The name expressed her optimism and cheery disposition.

Fredericksburg TX Sunny Side Hut
Sunny Side Hut
Photo courtesy Pioneer Museum

Walter and Mary's business model took advantage of 3 trends in American society: the end of prohibition, the country's growing fondness for convenience food and Americans' love affair with the automobile.

At least two large businesses were already catering to Americans' affection for automobiles and fast food. National restaurant chains A&W and The Pig Stand delivered burgers, sandwiches and fries to customers who preferred to eat in their cars. Both companies claimed to be the first to use car hops (a variation of "bell hop") since the1920s.

Walter and Mary Hollmig were travelers. It is likely they saw the "drive-in" concept on one of their journeys and brought it back to the Texas Hill Country.

The original Sunny Side Hut, a small wooden building where Broadway Bank stands today, had no indoor dining. Customers walked up or drove up and ordered through the window. Then in 1941 the Hollmigs added on to the building providing space for a small indoor dining area, restrooms and storage. Sometime in the evolutionary process, Walter and Mary hired car hops for the convenience of the drive up customers.

After World War II the dining area had a few tables, a Wurlitzer Juke Box and a Skee-Ball game. Adults played dominoes in the back of the building by the walk-in cooler.

But drive up customers were the heart of the business. Cars would pull up in front of the building in the shade of a large canvas awning. Car hops would take orders and deliver the food to the driver in his car.

Sunny Side Hut served what has become standard fast food fare including burgers, fries, hot dogs, sandwiches, enchiladas, fountain drinks and ice cream. Walter Hollmig created the ice cream in a room in back of the building that today houses the Nevins Law Firm. Sunny Side Hut offered a variation of a Coney Island hotdog after Mary Hollmig had a Coney for lunch on a trip to New York.

In addition to standard fast food fare, the kitchen turned out a mean T-Bone steak, and the bar served ice cold beer on tap or in the bottle.

Fredericksburg TX Sunny Side Hut Menu
Sunny Side Hut Menu
Photo courtesy Pioneer Museum

Sunny Side Hut was ahead of the curve in other ways. Customers could phone in their orders and have their food delivered to their homes or businesses free of charge.

Walter and Mary treated their employees like family. Every night after work the Hollmigs drove the car hops home in the Walter's baby blue Lincoln Continental.

Until it closed in 1961, Sunny Side Hut was an important hub of community life in Fredericksburg. Teenagers gathered there after home football games, dances or the movies. Teens were always welcome at Sunny Side although there was that annoying adolescent fad of stealing salt and pepper shakers. Parents took younger children there to celebrate special events and as bribery for good behavior. If children showed good manners at church or at Oma's house, parents took them to Sunny Side Hut for ice cream.

Sunny Side Hut was a cool oasis on a hot Texas day at a time when air-conditioning was just catching on. "The Frosty Root Beer at Sunny Side was sugar sweet and ice cold," a former Fredericksburg teenager told me, "and the beer was the coldest in town."

I get a brain freeze just thinking about it.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" October 1, 2020 Column



"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

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  • A Traffic Jam in Bankersmith 8-15-20
  • Vereins Kirche: The Symbol of Fredericksburg 8-1-20
  • Celebrating the Vereins Kirche 7-15-20

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