Project Hollerblock - Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café

Project Hollerblock Taking Gemütlichkeit to the Next Level in Historic Downtown Sanford

Make no mistake about it; while Historic Downtown Sanford has more recently become a burgeoning collective of gastronomic and artisanal culinary delights, it was Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café that set the tone of Sanford as a destination where craft, authenticity, and entertainment blend together.

In 2001, Theo and Linda Hollerbach opened their doors on 1st Street serving up heaping portions of German food and heritage that, cultivated over time and nurtured with an inordinate measure of fun, has distinguished ‘The Tree’ as a global destination.

Since its inception nearly two decades ago when a much smaller version of the restaurant operated on a black and white tile floor, business has grown considerably in response to the growing demands of its patrons. Today’s guests can see a re-created version of the old floor in the center dining room – installed as a visual reminder of the original size of the restaurant – and marvel at the Tree’s now mighty branches.

Dinner here is a true experience, and no doubt the most entertaining aspect of a dinner at Hollerbach’s is enjoying the musical duo of Jimmy and Eckhard, who for over 13 years have delighted crowds of all ages with their voices, accordion, and assortment of German folk instruments. (Jimmy and Eckhard can be seen every Thursday through Sunday night. Make it a point to see them!)

Additionally, the family operates Magnolia Square Market (a true German deli that offers guests high-quality food, beverage, and other German products), Hollerbach’s Outfitters (a German folk clothing and cultural gifts store, with Lederhosen and Dirndls, jewelry, art, and accessories), have recently established a nonprofit organization, ‘Hollerbach’s Has Heart,” and annually hold Oktoberfest and Springfest outdoor German festivals.

Best summed up by the German word “Gemütlichkeit,” defined at Hollerbach’s as the comforting, overall sense of well-being you experience while enjoying good food and drink among friends and family – Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café provides this experience to thousands of guests every month. The proprietors walk a fine line with ease, offering a traditional German restaurant experience replete with authentic Germanic décor and ambience, while staying authentically themselves.

As proprietor Theo Hollerbach heads into retirement at the end of this year, he will be leaving care of the business in the capable hands of his daughter and current Chief Operating Officer Christina Hollerbach-Simmons. And he has made significant plans to leave his daughter and the staff quite a legacy.

#ProjectHollerblock is a $1.6M expansion of the existing restaurant into Magnolia Square, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, the adding of conference and banquet space on the second floor, and a rooftop Biergarten serviced by an elevator. Construction is underway with work to be completed in Winter of 2019-2020.

Gemütlichkeit will be shared from the rooftops as Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café will become the first rooftop entertainment area in Historic Downtown Sanford, something Christina Hollerbach-Simmons hopes others downtown copy. Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café looks at #ProjectHollerblock as an opportunity for the once small restaurant that has grown into a true destination to now become more of a Mecca promoting German heritage.

In my chat about the project with Christina Hollerbach-Simmons and Director of Marketing Eric Koffsky, they gave me some inside information about what we can expect to see when #ProjectHollerblock is completed:

  • The restaurant expansion will include a second bar, constructed by German artisans Hartmann Bar Builders. Hartmann sent over a team this April on a measuring trip, with the bar to be constructed on site in Germany and delivered to Sanford in pieces. It will include sconces, bar rails, and other traditional German features.
  • The beer taps for the bar are being made from recovered lampposts from Hurricane Katrina. Artist Carlos Campos will cut and polish the metal in what will be his final project.
  • Long a supporter of the arts, Hollerbach’s will look to have large murals, sponsored by German beer companies Tucher, Erdinger, and Bitburger, The large Kyllburg (Theo’s hometown) mural in the existing bar area will be restored, and they intend to speak to the Public Art Commission about having possibly two murals on the exterior of the building – one facing Magnolia Square and another upstairs in the banquet area.
  • Hollerbach’s will seek to obtain a Café Permit, which will allow them to utilize Magnolia Square as a very European-style open community space in which quicker ‘grab and go’ items such as beers and rotisserie chickens can be enjoyed. Permanent market lighting has been approved.
  • The second floor will have windows offering a never-seen-before view of 1st Street and the Magnolia Square clock tower. The banquet space will offer options for catered meetings and events, and be outdoor themed, utilizing traditionally hung festival banners and other artistic details.

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café is completing its second decade poised to bring Historic Downtown Sanford to new heights. As the staff at the Tree would say, ‘Prost!’

For more information on #ProjectHollerblock and to keep up with the timeline for the project, visit

Daniel R. Lewis

Daniel R. Lewis is an Attorney, Realtor, and entrepreneur who is one of Sanford’s most prominent business leaders. Attorney Lewis has served on the board of directors for the Sanford Chamber of Commerce, as a Commissioner on the City of Sanford Planning and Zoning board, runs a large non-profit entity, and has otherwise been involved in countless large-scale growth projects in Sanford, Florida. He is a two-tour United States Air Force veteran who served his nation in time of war, is heavily involved in a variety of local civic, community, and charitable functions, and owns the most recognized legal practice in Sanford.