Lulu H. Auger, who with her husband founded and for more than a half-century ran one of Washington’s best-known restaurants, Blackie’s House of Beef, died Dec. 29 at Washington Hospital Center. She was 87.
She died after a stroke, said her son Gregory Auger.
With Ulysses G. “Blackie” Auger, Mrs. Auger opened Blackie’s in 1952 at 22nd and M streets Northwest at the West End of downtown Washington. In became one of the primary gathering places for political and business heavyweights including former President Harry S. Truman, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and William “Fishbait” Miller, the famed doorkeeper of the House of Representatives. In 1959, the revolutionary Cuban leader Fidel Castro dined there with seven of his associates.
“It was the site of countless marriage proposals and nervous prom-night feasts,” The Washington Post observed when Blackie’s closed on New Year’s Eve 2005.
When the restaurant opened, its signature dish on a no-frills menu was a hefty prime rib of beef, baked potato, peas, salad and cheesecake, for $1.75. When the restaurant closed, the prime rib was $39 and there was an extensive wine list.
For years, Blackie Auger’s manta was direct: “You eat beef or you don’t eat nothing.” But the words “House of Beef” were eventually dropped from its name, reflecting a diversified menu that had grown to include such delicacies as Chilean sea bass.
Mrs. Auger’s role in the operation included hostess duties in the dining room. “My mom took care of the front of the house,” Gregory Auger said. “My dad made sure the train ran on time.”
Lulu Hansen, who lived in Washington, was born in Garden City, Minn., on Oct. 5, 1924, the ninth of 10 children of a Danish immigrant farmer.
In the early years of World War II, she came to Washington on a Greyhound bus to look for work as a “government girl.” One of the other passengers was Ulysses Auger, and their romance began with a casual conversation.
The future Mrs. Auger found work as a stenographer typist at the Treasury Department. Blackie Auger served as an Army Ranger during World War II.
They were married for the first time on Jan. 9, 1946, in Hollywood, Calif., at the Marriage Manor, a wedding chapel they found in the Yellow Pages. The wedding fee was $10: $5 for the officiating clergyman and $5 for a witness.
But Ulysses Auger had always wanted to be married in a Greek Orthodox church. In spring 1958, after the couple’s restaurant business was successfully established, Mrs. Auger was baptized into the Greek Orthodox faith. On May 28, they were married for the second time at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington.
Ulysses Auger died in 2004. Their son, Ulysses G. Auger II, died in 2009.
Survivors include two children, Gregory Auger and Constandina Economides, both of Washington; and 10 grandchildren.
When her children reached school age, Mrs. Auger worked the luncheon shift at the restaurant, but then went home mid-afternoon to take care of the family. Her husband remained at work until late.
They expanded their business interests to include part ownership of the Mayflower hotel and Madison National Bank, and they helped build a Marriott hotel atop the Blackie’s building in 1981. They owned dozens of coffee shops and affiliated restaurants, including the Black Rose, the Black Saddle, the Black Bird, the Black Gun, the Black Russian and the Black Frisco.
In 1971, Mrs. Auger became an evangelical Christian, which she wrote about in a 2009 book, “Lulu: One Woman’s Journey From Poverty and the Occult to Enduring Faith and True Riches.”