Heibeck's food stand reopens for season, celebrates 90 years in Wilton

WILTON — Heibeck’s Stand on Danbury Road opened on April 20 for the first time since last fall. The seasonal local restaurant stand is celebrating its 90th anniversary, having roots in the Wilton community and the Heibeck family since 1931.

Skylar Smith bustled about while prepping the week before Heibeck’s reopening. The 29-year-old handles the main kitchen duties, as he has for years. But since the pandemic, he has been given more responsibility as the business has had to make staff cuts.

While Heibeck’s is celebrating 90 years in town, Smith is personally nearing his 15-year anniversary working at the restaurant.

“This was my first job,” Smith said, recalling being hired at 15. “It is actually the only job I’ve ever had.”

Smith is a member of the Heibeck family. His mother, Barbara “Bobbie” Heibeck is the granddaughter and grandniece of the original co-owners of the stand. While Smith worked at his family’s namesake business throughout high school and college, though, the business was no longer owned by a Heibeck.

“It was out of the family for about 30 years until eight or nine years ago,” Smith said. “That is when my mother and I purchased it from the previous owner.”

He said he felt pride returning to work at the business that held his family’s name.

“I know all of the hard work my family has put into this business,” he said. “There is 90 years of it. I couldn’t leave that tradition behind.”

Rachel Williams, Smith’s girlfriend, runs the business’ social media and helps on-site as well.

On any given day, customers can come and spot Smith behind the counter. He is self-taught in the kitchen, he said, but has learned a tremendous amount over his near decade managing and cooking at the stand. He preps the majority of the food Heibeck’s serves, including the local favorite: The warm and buttery lobster roll.

“As a Wilton resident, I had been driving past Heibeck’s for years, thinking it was the sort of roadside stand that sold frozen cheeseburgers. One day, I was shopping across the street at Caraluzzi’s and I got hungry so I decided to stop in,” said Rob Kurtz, of Wilton. “In front of me in line were a couple of people who were ordering lobster rolls. I was surprised and asked them if they were any good. They laughed and said, ‘They are the best.’ So I gave one a try, and it was outstanding.”

Kurtz, like many Wilton residents, had been aware of Heibeck’s even before trying it. The food stand emits the small-town and close community feel that local residents crave, almost as much as the food itself.

“What I love about Heibeck’s, besides their yummy food and awesome ice cream, is the throwback (feeling) I get to my childhood,” said Tiffany Chila, of Weston. “It reminds me of being a kid and taking a ride on a weekend with the family and stopping at a roadside stand for a hot dog and ice cream.”

The roadside stand has been forced to make a few adjustments in reopening, even from last year, Smith said.

While the stand’s patio area usually plays host to the picnic tables, Smith decided that moving the tables to the nearby lawn to space them out was better suited for patrons who wanted to eat on the premises.

Typically, diners would be able to order their food at the window and Heibeck’s employees would bring food to the table once it was finished. Now, diners will be called back to the window to pick up their food and can use the patio as a waiting area.

Smith said that the stand will host live music starting this spring on the green to entertain and attract more customers. He said he hopes to continue supporting the customers that have kept his family’s business afloat during the pandemic and create a familial bond with his patrons.

“Growing up, I didn’t know right away if I would stay. I thought it would be a temporary job,” Smith said. “But every summer I would keep coming back.”

He said while he has seen many businesses like Heibeck’s begin to dwindle because of chain restaurants offering lower prices, he believes Heibeck’s will be around for its centennial in 2031. Although running his family’s business is “a lot of work,” he said he wouldn’t want to do it any other way or with anyone else.

“This little place takes an army to run,” Smith said. “And having my family as my army, that makes it.”