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Edelweiss owners celebrate 30-year anniversary

Downtown eatery is gathering sport for loyal following
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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It’s one of those neighborhood hangouts where (almost) everybody knows your name. Many of the customers at Downtown Auburn’s Edelweiss restaurant have been eating there for many years — some nearly every day, others as often as twice a day. That’s one of the things co-owner William Haddad likes best about the business as he prepares to celebrate its 30-year anniversary. “We have very loyal regulars,” he said Wednesday. William and his brother, Mike Haddad, purchased the eatery in 1981. It had been open at least 11 years prior to that as a German restaurant. The Haddads immediately changed the menu to classic American fare. After the first year, they added the signature omelets. The 45 choices range from vegetarian to meat lovers’ favorites, such as the Big Boy with three kinds of meat and two kinds of cheese. If customers don’t find an omelet they want, they can special order. There’s also a large selection of sandwiches and homemade desserts. While the brothers do the cooking, William’s wife Nancy and Mike’s wife Sami are the waitresses. A third waitress, Annie Moon, has become part of the family, too. Moon has worked at the restaurant since 1977. The close-knit relationships she has nurtured really hit home when she had to take off in September for several months to undergo chemotherapy. Haddad accompanied Moon to some of her treatments and customers’ responses to her illness still brings tears to her eyes. “(They sent) cards, letters, presents — flowers, candy — it was overwhelming,” she said. Moon returned to work Jan. 10. “We don’t have customers, we have friends,” she said. When William Haddad’s daughter had a baby last year, he saw a similar outpouring of generosity from customers, many of whom had watched his children grow up in the restaurant. The family atmosphere extends to the “roundtable,” an actual round table in the center of the room for those who don’t want to eat alone. It’s a feature the Haddads inherited from previous owner Lewis Nardi. “People from all walks of life sit there and discuss the world,” Moon said. It’s a popular draw, with people “elbow to elbow” during the breakfast and lunch rush, Haddad added. Downtown Auburn has become a different place in the decades since the Haddads took over the business. “We used to be one of the few restaurants, now we’re one of the many,” William Haddad said. In the early years, there was still a Penney’s Department store in town and Lucky’s Market was just blocks away. Although the exterior has changed around it, Edelweiss has remained essentially the same. The Haddads have made upgrades as needed and brought in new furniture a couple of times. But that’s all. The walls are decorated with colorful paintings and memorabilia. A large photo shows one of the customers dressed in Western garb from hat to boots. “That’s John Downs,” Haddad said. “He’s here all the time.” Downs, a lifelong Auburn-area resident, discovered Edelweiss eight or nine years ago. He’s there most days for breakfast — two eggs over easy and toast. The comfortable atmosphere keeps him going back, he said. “It’s the people who work there and the people who go there,” Downs said. “It’s more of a small-type operation and a family operation. It’s more like family goes there and family works there. It feels like family.” He felt that kindred spirit from the first time he walked into the restaurant, he said. The regulars are a mix of old-timers and a who’s who of Auburn, including Dentist Robert Robocker and Attorney Al Patrick, Haddad said. The eatery is open daily for breakfast and lunch. The Haddads added dinner service several years ago but dropped it because it wasn’t as popular. During the 1990s, two other Haddad brothers, Steve and Tom, opened a second Edelweiss in Old Town Auburn and celebrated 21 years in business last June. For William and Mike Haddad’s 30-year celebration, they’re planning a buy-one-meal, get-one-free special at the restaurant on Feb. 18. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.