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Cowan’s Restaurant History
In this historic building, Henry J. Dickbrader operated a hardware store from 1890 to 1905. He was also the Mayor of Washington from 1893 to 1898. In the late 1920′s it became home to Mealler’s Restaurant for several years, then Elm Street Cafe and eventually Cowan’s Cafe, in 1973, owned by John Cowan.
Oma & Jerry Gildehaus bought Cowan’s in 1977 after Oma’s many years working at the previous restaurants. Because they, their children, family and friends worked hard over the years, Cowan’s quickly expanded, became famous for their homemade pies and known as “The Place to Meet”. In late 2006 Jerry became ill which left him unable to work. Oma continued to keep the restaurant open with her son, Tom and wife Rachel, until Oma passed in April, 2009. Tom and Rachel then purchased the restaurant to ensure Cowan’s stays alive in beautiful Downtown Washington.
Tom grew up in the restaurant business. He worked throughout his teen and adult years as stock boy, dishwasher, cook and manager. Oma and Jerry instilled some very basic principles in Tom, like always buying top quality ingredients and cooking every order to order to ensure the best, freshest food possible. They also taught him to appreciate the customers and employees, because without them there would be no Cowan’s.
Rachel began working at Cowan’s as a server when she was sixteen, also her first job. She grew to love the restaurant, the family and Tom. So, after a long courtship they were united in marriage in 2004. In 2010, Tom and Rachel remodeled the upstairs and made it their home, so, homemade is actually fact around here. Debbie Hagedorn is a main ingredient working here all the way back with Oma and John Cowan. This was also her first job and she still continues to work for Tom and Rachel, but not without the occasional tease about her being here before Tom was even born.
When Oma was diagnosed with cancer, there was a major concern over the famous homemade pies. Tom had done just about every job, but had never baked a pie. Rachel asked to learn and very quickly Oma knew she was a natural. Rachel has now carried on the tradition of Oma and Jerry’s homemade fruit and “Mile High Pies”. It is important to Tom and Rachel to stay in Downtown Washington and offer home cooked food at reasonable prices. Although there are things like free wireless internet and bar codes on the tickets, the made-from-scratch pies, specials and family recipes are still used every day.