Fort Myers, Florida
Helga Heiss and her husband, Helmut Heiss, ran a restaurant in Vienna for 25 years before they moved to Fort Myers, where they opened the Austrian-German restaurant in 2008. Helga also makes her own seedless rye bread fresh daily and an apple strudel customers love. But when the restaurant is filled with 100 people in season, 60 to 70 orders are for schnitzel.
Tell us a little bit of yourself: Where are you originally from and where did you spend your childhood?
I am originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina located in South-East Europe. At the age of 16, I came to Austria.
When did you first discover your passion for cooking?
I started out cooking for a large hospital in Vienna. During my six years there, I really got to know the ins and outs of a kitchen.
What provoked you to leave Austria for Fort Myers?
My husband and I owned a house in Fort Myers for many years. At some point we had to make the decision of either selling it or relocating to the United States. We chose the latter.
Did you face any difficulties setting up your restaurant?
We faced many difficulties in the beginning. It took three years until everything was fully established and the guests realized that we existed and learned to appreciate the excellent quality of the food that we served.
In your opinion, what are the major differences between running a restaurant in the U.S. as compared to Austria?
Well, in Austria people are obviously used to this kind of food and you have your group of people that help you, no matter what. In the U.S. we had to do all by ourselves in the beginning. We also wanted to ensure the great taste and quality of the food.
Who are your core customers? Are they predominantly locals or tourists?
They are mainly from the U.S. and they usually have some sort of affiliation with Germany or Austria.
How would you describe your restaurant in your own words? What can the guests expect?
Our guests can always expect home made fresh cooking. We only use natural ingredients and no preservatives.
Is there an Austrian community in Fort Myers?
Yes, there is but it is small compared to the ones in larger cities.
Are you in contact with any Austrians in the area? Is there a regular meet-up; something like an “Austrian Stammtisch”?
Yes many of our guests come frequently to enjoy excellent Austrian food, from liver dumpling soup to Schnitzel and Tafelspitz. And they, of course, enjoy delicious desserts like Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s pancake).
What is your favorite Austrian dish to prepare?
That has to be the traditional Austrian Schnitzel.
Do you go back to Austria often? Is there something that you miss in particular?
We try to visit Austria at least once a year. Sometimes (especially during the summer) we start to miss the cooler weather.
Interview: Anja Mayer