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Warnecke had the first drive-in store in Texas beginning in 1934

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Long before we had convenience stores in New Braunfels, we had the first drive-in grocery store in Texas right at the intersection of one of the busiest spots in town. It was Warnecke’s Drive In and it was located where the Union Street Station now is at the corner of E.San Antonio St. and Union.

After talking to various members of the Warnecke family, Wilton, Sr., Wilton, Jr., and Bob Warnecke, a rather amazing story unraveled. The Warnecke family connection with this particular intersection has been a long one, going back to Wilton (Sr.)Warnecke’s grandparents, Karl and Caroline Warnecke.

On the opposite corner of E; San Antonio and Union where Ducky’s parking lot is now was a huge two story building that was built by Peter Nowotny, Jr. in 1903. Sometime before 1918, this property was bought by Karl Warnecke and he and his wife lived on the second floor.

Around 1920, Karl Warnecke rented out a large portion of the downstairs to Arthur Schumann and Elmo Arnold who ran a mercantile and grocery store. A full length wall separated this store from a saloon run by Warnecke. In 1924 Warnecke sold this building to Schumann and Arnold. They proceeded to cut down the building and move it away from the corner to its present location… According to Douglas Heilmann, present owner of the building and operator of his store, Ducky’s Swimwear, the second floor had to be removed to move it and was not replaced. In the basement of Ducky’s, extending the entire length of the building and approximately eight feet wide, was a rifle range built in the 1920s.

Karl Warnecke then bought the property across the street facing E. San Antonio (now Union Street Station). On this corner had been a small three lane bowling alley. Naturally it was 9 pin bowling, a practice that was brought from Germany. Warnecke tore down the bowling alley and gave the wood from the lanes to his nephew, Otto Warnecke, who had purchased the adjoining land for the Camp Warnecke Resort. Otto fashioned a large bar out of the wood and it remained a focal part of the Camp Warnecke office.

The couple built a house on the corner and a Bude (German slang for hut) which all three Warneckes told me is a small room where there were domino tables. Later, when the front of the house was converted to Warnecke Drive In, customers were invited to play dominoes free, and win chips. These could then be turned into merchandise right there. Hmm, clever!

When both Warnecke’s died in the early 1930s their adopted sonAugust and wife Emma moved into their house. It was actually August that started the drive-in in 1934. He attached it to the front of the house. He would stand outside on the porch, people would drive up and place their order, and August would bring it to them. August ran the first live bait business in town, selling minnows for 25 cents a dozen, worms for 10cents a dozen and crawfish seined from creeks for 2cents a piece.

Meanwhile, Emma ran her homemade tamale business out of the Bude. Emma sold 50 dozen tamales to Ma’s Café downtown every Saturday. She kept on doing that even after August died and sons Wilton and Bennie took over the drive in. The Warnecke brothers sold gasoline, had their own meat market, and had the first refrigerated fruit and vegetable case in NB. They catered bar-b-q and of course rented tubes to float the Comal. The drive-in came to an end when it was sold in 1984.

I think I’ll try to drive up to some grocery store, honk the horn and see what happens. What do you think?

Warnecke Drive In, the first drive-in grocery store in Texas, as it looked in the 1970s. The store opened in 1934 and closed in 1984.