The first thing you notice upon entering Haby’s Alsatian Bakery in Castroville about 25 miles northwest of San Antonio is the wide variety of pastries and breads on display.
“When we bought it in 1974, the bakery had only four kinds of cookies,” recalls Samuel (Sammy) H. Tschirhart, smiling at Yvonne, his wife of more than 45 years. “Now we have 20.”
Some customers can’t resist sampling their purchases before departing. “They like our apple fritters and honey buns,” says Sammy, 70. “No other fritters turn out as well as apple.”
A woman attests to that one Tuesday morning. “This is really good,” she says after taking several bites of a fritter. “Not greasy. Not doughy like some of those doughnut shops.”
“Our kinds of bread have doubled,” Sammy points out. They range from raisin, rye and pumpernickel to cheese, onion, oatmeal and anadama, American yeast bread made from white flour with cornmeal and molasses.
“Business has been pretty good,” Yvonne says. “We have customers from out of town that make it a point to stop here — like snowbirds from the north. We do a lot of catering.”
On his business card, he advertises “Wedding Cakes with Flavor.” Also available are strudels, stollens and coffeecakes.
The bakery is only half of the family business. Across U.S. 90 is Sammy’s Restaurant, which dates back seven decades.
“My grandfather bought the land in the 1940s,” Sammy recalls. “My brother Leon opened up an icehouse in 1948 and we started selling hamburgers in 1950. I worked for my brother when I got out of high school. Then I went in the service in 1953. In 1955, we formed a partnership. I bought him out on Jan. 1, 1958.”
Since the 1950s, “Dad got bread for the restaurant from Stanley Haby’s place,” says the youngest son, Walter, who runs the bakery with his wife Carolyn. “So he asked him about selling it.”
“We were just protecting our interests,” says his mother, whose maiden name is Haby, but no relation to Stanley. “We couldn’t trust anyone else to make the bread as well.”
Adds Sammy: “We’re using the same recipe that Haby did in the 1950s. Haby’s bread is similar to French bread.”
Yvonne points out “all of our kids have worked for us since they were little” in both places. She once worked as the waitress when Sammy’s had a drive-in.
“I’ve been working at the bakery since I was 10,” says Walter, the chief baker who arrives between 1 a.m. and 2. “I’d help out sweeping. One of the old bakers said I swept like a blind man. After high school, I learned from the bakers here. And I go to seminars.”
Walter’s axiom: “You have two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk.”
Daughter Ann Duran and husband Bill work in Sammy’s Restaurant. “She used to stand on a box at the cash register,” her mother recalls. Sammy Jr. “takes care of the computer stuff and the ordering.”
Sammy, a former mayor and councilman, was born in Castroville, known as “the Little Alsace of Texas.” Henri Castro, who arranged the journey across the Atlantic for mostly Alsatian Catholic farmers, founded the settlement in 1844. Twenty-seven of the first colonists, escorted by Texas Rangers from San Antonio, chose an area near a sharp bend of the Medina River covered with pecan trees.
Sammy and Yvonne are so proud of their heritage that they hired Patrice Hoff, professor of visual arts at an Alsatian college, to paint a mural on the bakery’s east wall paying tribute to Castroville’s history.
“We told him want we’d like,” Yvonne says. “He did a sketch. He had some modern things in it: football helmets and the front end of a car. I suggested he depict the journey of Alsatians to Castroville.”
The mural, completed in February 2000, includes a portrait of Castro, prominent member of a French Jewish family; the steeple of the third St. Louis Catholic Church, completed in 1870; Eguisheim, Castroville’s French sister city since 1975; and the outlines of Texas and Alsace.