A ceremonial ribbon cutting gave way to a reunion of sorts Saturday, Jan. 7 at The Heidelberg.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the restaurant welcomed its contemporary patrons in addition to old regulars and employees of its past. Current and former Columbia residents enjoyed food and drink specials with a complementary slice of birthday cake. One man drove in from his current home in Iowa; he had tended the bar the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.
Much might have changed in the world outside, but inside the doors of The Heidelberg at 410 South 9th Street, the differences since Jan. 5, 1963 are negligible, co-owner Rusty Walls said.
The inside is cleaner and clearer since the city of Columbia banned smoking in bars and restaurants, and the dinning room is a little brighter and more level since the restaurant was rebuilt following a devastating fire in August of 2003, Walls said. Originally formed from three adjoining storefronts, the new building features a similar, albeit more even, floor plan with the addition of an upstairs patio. Overall, the character of "The 'Berg" has been preserved through the years.
"I think we're more steady," Walls said. "We don't try to do trendy. We've always been that day-in, day-out place."
Walls shares ownership of the restaurant with his father, Dick Walls, and brother, Richard Walls Jr.
At 23-years-old and the youngest among a group of investors, Dick originally opened the restaurant with 25 percent ownership. Through a series of exchanges and buyouts, Walls became full owner by September of 1965. The Heidelberg has been a product of the Walls family ever since.
"We always try to make (the customer) feel at home," Dick said. "That's the way we've done it. And it's worked, so that's the way we'll continue to do it for another 50 years."
While the Walls family has also remained active in the Columbia community and beyond — Dick served on city council in the early '80s, and Richard Jr. oversaw the Missouri Restaurants Association in 2011 — Dick said he has always felt more a part of the MU campus than the larger Columbia community.
His favorite memories include many of the Tigers' athletic achievements, like watching Missouri win the Big 8, and seeing his employees graduate from MU. This sense of family and comradery in the restaurant has not waned since his sons took over management.
"Everyone who works here is great," Bartender Will Schauwecker said. "We end up hanging out outside of work all the time."
Schauwecker has worked at The Heidelberg for three years now. Originally a dish washer, he worked his way through the restaurant as a food runner, cook and bartender. He said he enjoys working at The 'Berg' because of its atmosphere, assortment of customers and fellow employees.
"It's fun to interact with all the regulars," he said. "I may get off of work but still end up talking with them."
Regulars note the blend of young and old customers who filter through the restaurant each day. For better or worse, the first 50 years of The Heidelberg's legacy are not all that different.
"I think it's a good thing," said one regular, who wished not to be identified. "You know what you're going to get when you walk in the door. Good food. Good service. Good company."