Dear Mr. Mikusch, when did you first realize you wanted to become a baker and pastry chef?
When I was six years old, I went to the village bakery on a school field trip and was intrigued by all the smells and all the different things the baker showed us. I saw all of the things you could do; all of the creativity involved in the process, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.
How did you come to the U.S. and why did you settle in Chicago?
I first came to theU.S. on vacation and liked it a lot. I said to myself that if I was ever given the opportunity, I would come back. Chicago was always on my list of cities I wanted to visit. So, after initially arriving in New York, I eventually made my way to Chicago and began working for Backaldrin, a manufacturing company for Austrian baking ingredients.
How did the idea of opening your own bakery shop and café come about?
From a very young age on, it was a goal of mine to own my own place and be my own boss. Cafe Vienna is the realization of that dream, and I am continually striving to come up with new ideas and ways to improve the café.
What challenges did you face during the process of opening your café?
From the business side, it was not that difficult. The difficult part was to convince customers and to establish a group of regular patrons coming to the store. Another challenge was finding the ingredients here to make the same products that I made back in Austria.
Can you tell us a little bit about Cafe Vienna?
In addition to our large variety of breads and pastries, Cafe Vienna has room for about 40 customers to dine-in and features an expansive menu that includes breakfast, lunch, soups, salads, and dinner items. Our breakfast is hugely popular, particularly on weekends, and we always have large crowds come in for brunch. The menu features a number of traditional Austrian dishes, as well as my take on some traditional American items.
How did the people in the city receive your Austrian bakery goods and sweet treats?
Once we had the customers convinced to come in and try our stuff, it was a hit. The people very much appreciate our pastries, which are unique and not as sweet as typical American pastries. Our dark European rye bread is also different from the rye bread that people in the U.S. are used to, but is generally very well received and is one of our most popular loaves.
Are there any pastries that your guests love in particular?
The Altwiener Apple Strudel, the Esterhazy Torte, the Sacher Torte, and Cheese Pocket are our big sellers.
Do you have any favorite Austrian dish?
My favorite dish is the Austrian beef goulasch, which is one of the featured entrées on our menu.
Are you in contact with any Austrians in the area? Is there an expat community in Chicago?
Yes, we are in regular contact with the Austrian Trade Commission and the Austrian representatives in the area, and we host a monthly Austrian Stammtisch, a friendly get-together and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy good food and have a great time. We have a number of Austrians, Germans, and other Europeans from all over Chicago frequenting the bakery.
Do you often go back to visit Austria? Is there anything about Austria that you miss in particular?
Yes, of course! I go back once a year to see my family and friends. Some of the things I miss the most about Austria are skiing and ballroom dancing.
What are some of your favorite places and restaurants in Chicago?
I like to go out for sushi. One of my favorite sushi restaurants is Saí Cafe. I also like to go to the Chicago Brauhaus. How do you see the future of Cafe Vienna and what is in store for you personally? As far as Cafe Vienna goes, I would love to open up a second location. Personally, I am proud to have come so far. Starting with nothing, opening Cafe Vienna and seeing it do so well has been an incredible achievement and a goal that I have always dreamed of accomplishing.
Interview: Hannes Richter