About the Hildebrand
Late in the 1800’s seafarers brought word of a faraway place called Cape Town. They spoke of the many fair lands they had seen, where a hardworking individual might flourish; and they praised Cape Town above all other cities. It was even more promising they declared than the strange New York to which thousands of people were flocking. And so began a flood of immigrants into the mother city.
In 1898, a German immigrant Adolf Schütte and his young bride secured the sole rights to import Theodor Hildebrand & Son chocolates to South Africa. A shop was opened at the top of Adderley Street. The business thrived and a number of years later, the Governor General’s wife, Princess Alice of Athlone, suggested that they serve a cup of first-rate coffee and a biscuit or a chocolate to encourage patronage.
By 1935 the “tearoom” had become the larger part of the business and housed 23 tables and a little kitchen. “Our light meals were very popular especially as we were the first in Cape Town to introduce mixed salads. Before that, a salad dish usually consisted of lettuce leaves, a few slices of tomato and beetroot that was all. The Hildebrand salads consisted of 8-10 varieties of vegetables and fruit with homemade mayonnaise prettily arranged. Equally popular were the egg dishes and most of all, the Cape lobster and local seafood”
These were the days when people travelled to town by bus or train. Women had servants at home, telephones weren’t a must and the ladies met their friends in town to enjoy cake with their morning or afternoon tea. The motorcar was left at home for use at weekends. The charges were 1/6d for the salad dish and 1/9d for lobster and mayonnaise. People started queuing up at mealtimes. Cleanliness was most important as was the employing of the right type of staff. And so the tradition of Hildebrand was established.
The Hildebrand had grown even further over the following years, now capable of seating 127 people, and operating from 8am to 7pm, by Adolf Schutte’s daughter, Isolde Borgelt who ran things for her father. She was the main drive behind the Hildebrand’s passion, expansion and success.
Mrs. Isolde Borgelt eventually sold the Hildebrand after years of working up to twelve hour shifts and taking care of her family. She sold to a Mr. Hinder who ran the business successfully from 1942 until 1964, when he decided to sell it to a group of Italian restaurateurs: Mario Scovenna, Armando Gabbani, Colombo and Tony Bagatta. Over the years only 2 of the original partners remained, being Gabbani and Bagatta. Mr. Gabbani had decided to retire in 1979 and Mr. Bagatta was looking for a partner to help run the business and this was when Aldo Girolo, an Italian immigrant stepped into the picture. In 1980 the Hildebrand moved yet again into the 1st floor of the Old Mutual Building.
The Hildebrand thrived in town for another 10 years and was a well known venue for business lunches and dinner dances. Unfortunately, towards the end of the eighties a lot of businesses decided to leave the city centre and crime escalated in the city which lead to the Hildebrand losing its evening dining appeal.
It was around this time that the V&A Waterfront was being implemented and still in its infancy. It was decided that if the Hildebrand was to survive it would have to relocate, which is when Mr. Girolo and Bagatta resolved to move the Hildebrand into its current building; one which was found to have an equally colourful history as the Hildebrand.
The old Harbour Café Building was in fact built in 1901, and was Erf 1 in Cape Town prior to the rezoning that occurred when the V&A Waterfront expansion took place. The building was the location of Cape Town’s first post office, and was an Officers Mess used by the Royal Navy, the Port Health Authority Building as well as the Port Captains Offices. It was also the venue of the immensely popular Harbour Café before it became a part of the V&A Waterfront development.
Thus the Hildebrand moved to its current home in 1995, and has filled the new venue with the same warm ambiance and tradition of Italian and seafood cuisine it has become synonymous with over the last 112 years.