By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
I often think about living in New Braunfels and how fortunate we are to have wonderful century-old buildings everywhere. I don’t necessarily think about that when I am trying to dodge tourists crossing the streets of downtown or hurrying to be on time to some destination, but I do think about it. I love how the downtown buildings have evolved over time and taken in new businesses. A recent visit to Myron’s Steakhouse on North Castell Avenue reminded me of visits to the same building many years before, piquing my curiosity about its history and how my memories match up.
The sleek stucco building was built in 1924. The Palace Theatre, owned by A.J. Loehman and John H. Stahl, was one of several movie and entertainment houses in New Braunfels. The partnership dissolved by October of 1925, but Stahl continued to run the theatre for a few more years. By June of 1932, the building was sold to R.B. Gode to satisfy debts. Clearly, I was not around in 1924, but we need to back up even further to pick up the details of what came after the theatre.
Just before the turn of the century, a young girl named Milda Richter moved to New Braunfels with her mother. Money was scarce, so the girl began doing housework for the Gruene family at a very young age. She later worked for a restaurant in town. In 1912, Milda met and married a young man and they set about their life’s journey.
There was an establishment at that time, on the corner of San Antonio Street and North Castell Avenue (where Callahan’s stands now), that sold wine, liquor and cigars, otherwise known as a saloon. If patrons wanted food, they were directed through the saloon to a restaurant connected in the back. There was also a door facing Castell Avenue. The young couple bought said restaurant from Mr. Edmund Runge, the owner, for $175.
The couple opened their new business under the name Fritz Bloedorn’s Restaurant. It was hard work. Everything was cooked on a wood-burning stove. No gas or electric ovens. No microwaves. Plus, they had two children to care for. Fritz soon left. When they divorced in 1921, Milda retained the restaurant. Milda lived above the restaurant, raised her children and ran the restaurant by herself. Milda was friendly, outgoing, and compassionate in caring for her customers. She earned the name “Ma” from Walter Faust, Sr. and the name stuck. She built a great reputation; she built a great business; and she survived the Great Depression.
By the end of 1932, Milda had a terrific opportunity to rent the much larger space right next door in the former Palace Theatre. The building renovations allowed enough space for the restaurant and one other tenant, the Central Meat Market, owned by A.G Startz and Erwin Startz. Bloedorn Café opened in the renovated Palace Theatre building on February 1, 1933. It eventually became known as just “Ma’s Café”.
Restaurants in New Braunfels were a little different than today. There were a lot of people who lived in a boarding situation. In other words, they rented a room with no kitchen, so they had to take their meals at a café. Every meal. Ma cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. There was usually a special of the day with limited choices. Many of the patrons ate there several times a day.
Ma was an innovative cook. She bought fresh vegetables from farmers who came to the back door. Fresh chickens were delivered on Fridays, LIVE, which then had to be plucked and butchered to cook for Sunday dinner. On one occasion, someone brought soft-shell turtles to the back door and she made turtle soup.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1934, Ma’s was one of the first restaurants in New Braunfels to get a beer license to better serve her customers. Before that, beer was only consumed in saloons.
Food was rationed during World War II. The purchase of meat, sugar, coffee, and butter required ration stamps. Restaurants were required to take their menus and the sales book for the month in order to obtain food stamps for the coming month. Ma survived many hardships — single motherhood, the Great Depression, and World War II — and yet was very generous with others. She never turned away a hobo, but she would give them something to do to earn their food. Ma was known to open the café to boarders on Christmas Eve. On New Year’s Eve, she would start her day early in the morning, preparing the day’s meals as usual, before hosting a huge New Year’s Eve dinner and after-dance meals. There were a lot of people that even showed up during intermission from a nearby dance for a bite to eat. Then she would start all over again at 5 a.m.
Milda’s children Arthur and Erna helped their mother a lot. She operated the café for 47 years until her death in 1961. Her son, Arthur, and his wife, Louise, ran it for 19 more years. People are more likely to know Arthur by “Schimmel”, which in German means “white horse.” He was given the nickname because as a child he had very white blond hair. I remember Schimmel as a gregarious man who served the biggest, best hamburgers ever.
It was during Schimmel’s time at the helm that a group of men began meeting after work to discuss the affairs, events and politics of the day. This group was composed of local bankers, businessmen, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and salesmen. Their camaraderie developed into a Stammtisch table. For those who do not actually know what a Stammtisch is (even though you might see the word as a heading above the events in the Herald-Zeitung) it is a “regulars’ table”. Twenty-six men routinely met at Ma’s to enjoy discussion and a round or two of adult beverages. Besides meeting regularly, the group took a page out of Ma Bloedorn’s playbook and sponsored a yearly feast for the people who worked downtown. Ma’s generous soul fed the community for many years from downtown New Braunfels.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum and Archives; Dennis Schwab.