COFFEE PURVEYOR

Vienna coffee purveyor pours on the panache

Chicago has long been known as the home of the Vienna hot dog. Now, it's going to be the home of coffee from Vienna. A Viennese company has opened up shop on Chicago's North Side, where coffee is served in the traditional style: on a silver platter with a glass of water at its side.

Co-owner Thomas Meinl had one request for his Yankee shop: "I didn't want it to be a honky-tonk coffee shop," said Meinl, whose family owns the Meinl coffee empire in Vienna and has opened the Julius Meinl coffee shop at Addison and Southport. "We wanted it to be as authentic as possible." That includes flying in most of the interior furnishings from Austria and piping in the country's classical music.

Unlike most coffee chains in the United States, such as Starbucks and Caribou Coffee, the Austrian version has waiters and waitresses. The shop also has a more American, traditional take-away service. "Someone came in here and said what we are doing was revolutionary," Meinl said. "Imagine that, a coffee shop being revolutionary." Meinl, who along with his brother represents the fourth of five generations of Meinls in the family business, said he picked Chicago as the first city for his American coffee shops because of the neighborhood and because his partners are from Chicago.

He said the timing also was right. "Chicago has become a sophisticated city," Meinl said. "Twenty-five years ago, the city was railroads and warehouses, but now it is a world-class city." Meinl said Chicago is also the heart of the heartland. He thinks Midwesterners will be more willing to try something different, as opposed to East Coast residents, with their ties to Western Europe, and the West Coast, which is more open to Asia. The roasted coffees Meinl sells in a store inside the coffee shop have been roasted and vacuum-packed in Austria, then flown to Chicago. "Without modern technology, creating what we're creating would have been not only difficult, but impossible,'' Meinl said.

Meinl also has imported recipes from the Vienna shop to serve to Chicagoans, including a topfenstrudel , a farmer's cheese strudel with orange zest and golden raisins. The coffee has been praised by critics who have tasted the beans, and prices are comparable to those of major franchises. A few American restaurants import the coffee from Vienna to serve to their customers. A New York Times restaurant reviewer wrote: "I'm prepared to state that it's the best coffee in [New York]: rich, robust and deep.'' So far the reception in the Wrigleyville neighborhood has been good. Crowds pack the shop at night, and, in the morning, a line of commuters heading for the trains snakes through the interior.

"It's nice to have something different in the neighborhood," said Larry Kolar, who has become a regular at the shop that opened earlier this month. "This should do very well here."

Source: USA Today, Vienna coffee purveyor pours on the panache, Lucio Guerreru, 2002