WILLISTON PARK, NY — As the 1920s raged, Henry Hildebrandt opened a diner and ice cream parlor in Williston Park, New York. It was a time when stores like Hildebrandt’s were the heart of America’s inner cities.
But slowly they disappeared, so many that at the beginning of the 21st century Hildebrandt’s was among the last of its kind. The Long Island restaurant was so unique it became an Instagram favorite, and its storefront was hailed as one of the finest in America.
And then Hildebrandt’s became almost a statistic, a memory like all the others who were missed and mourned. In 2020, a new landlord raised rents, and the family, who have run the house since 1974, raised the white flag – Hildebrandt’s would close barring a miracle.
Well, a miracle happened this year, on Super Bowl Sunday. The Los Angeles Rams weren’t the only winners that night.
Randy Sarf and his dad walked in for ice cream. Sarf was a regular at Hildebrandt — it was the place where he grew up — and when then-owner Bryan Acosta confirmed to him that the ice cream parlor was doomed, Sarf decided on the spot, “We’re going to save the place.”
And he put his money into action, he said, buying two stuffed tigers that the store was selling — fittingly, the Cincinnati Bengals were the other team playing that night — for $1,000.
That was just Sarf’s impetus. He soon brought in his cousin, Spencer Singer, and they bought the place in a 10-year deal, setting up a business that will thrive for at least another century. With Sarf’s business skills and Singer’s experience in crafts, including fashion, they leverage their complementary skills to get the job done.
“It’s a special place for him. And Nassau County and beyond,” Singer said of how Sarf and so many others view Hildebrandts. “When I first came back to this place, I knew it immediately. I was hooked.”
In fact, they have made a commitment not only to keep Hildebrandt’s open, but to revitalize it.
These careful changes will emphasize its historical character — like exposing a long-hidden tin ceiling — while making changes to the menu while still preserving the classic dishes customers crave, like the cheeseburger.
And they make sure that the crown jewel here gets the shine and spotlight it deserves – the ice cream. Produced locally, available in more than a dozen flavors, it forms the basis of Hildebrandt’s expansion beyond its nearly century-old home.
“We will remain true to what Hildebrandt is,” said Singer. “We don’t just see Hildebrandt’s as this great community staple, we see it as a brand and we want people to enjoy it from near and far. So the ice really is what stays with us for another 100 years. We want to market the ice cream nationwide. We want to wholesale it to local markets and restaurants and then bring it straight to the consumer. Once we’ve renovated, we’ll expand with the ice.”
The place is like a set from a movie set in the 1960’s, its vintage charm is everywhere. In fact, appearing in a scene from Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was just that. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular, and during the recent Localish shoot, Singer and Sarf made sure customers were comfortable and the service impeccable, all while sharing their vision for a vibrant Hildebrandt’s.
Singer, who sat at the front door for the interview, greeted each customer. “Hello ladies, how are you? Any table you want” was one of many cordial greetings that Singer brought to the lunch guests.
Indeed, it’s all about family, which extends to the longtime employees Sarf has provided for. The previous owners also stayed when the new era at Hildebrandt began.
“This place definitely means so much to me and my family,” said Hunter Acosta, who ran Hildebrandt’s with her father, Bryan. “We were about a month from closure and then Randy and Spencer just swooped in and saved the day. We have known Randy and his family for a very long time. It’s really cool to have a family that knows my family.”
Singer and Sarf say they have a plan and the means, and everyone from Long Island neighbors to admirers of ancient architecture around the world are supporting them.
“I was here the other day and there were four generations sitting at one table,” Singer said. “I mean, that’s crazy, that’s wild.”
He reveals the recipe for success in a nutshell: “It’s family first, it’s community, and it’s ice cream. It’s a new adventure every day.”
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https://abc7.com/ice-cream-shop-luncheonette-diner-hildebrandts/12268755/ New owners of Hildebrandt’s in Williston Park salvage a 1920s ice cream shop