When Baron Klaus Erich von Hochgotz visited Vancouver for the first time in 1998, he fell in love with the mountains and the water—but what truly captured his heart was Chinatown.
"This is so awesome," he said to himself. "One day, I want to be here."
The former hotelier and Austrian chef kept his promise to himself and, after years of globetrotting, moved here in 2010.
What came next was a match made in foodie heaven.
In 2013, Von Hochgotz met local Jensen Sadinkin, who was at cooking school at the time. After the two got talking, they soon created the K & J Schnitzel Truck, which became a food-truck hit.
This year, the truck put down permanent roots when the pair opened Klaus's Kaffee Haus on October 3 tucked away off Main Street at 291 East Pender Street (at Gore Avenue).
What may be surprising to some visitors is that the 1,000 square foot premises, which can seat up to 16 people, features a mix of modern and Chinese décor—so it's not easy to guess that it sells Austrian baked goods.
Over a Viennese coffee at his place, Von Hochgotz told the Georgia Straight that when they first opened, they started out selling pastries and croissants. But it didn't draw in many customers.
When one day Von Hochgotz happened to make apple strudel, it sold out within half an hour. And thus, the coffee house was born.
It's no wonder the strudel sold out. The pastry is beautifully light and crisp, and the sweetness is just enough, without over- or underdoing it.
His strudel menu (ranging from $5 to $7.50) draws upon traditional Austrian recipes, such as cabbage and bacon, but also features innovations, such as goat cheese strudel with black kale, pear, and zucchini.
An intriguing tip of the hat to his local environment is spicy Chinese strudel with minced pork, bamboo, water chestnut, and mushrooms.
Part of the encouragement to integrate Chinese elements into the business came from Sadinkin, who is Indonesian Chinese Canadian, can speak Indonesian and Mandarin, and in fact was born at the nearby May Wah Hotel.
Sadinkin is aware of the importance of the issues about overdevelopment in the area.
"One thing is for sure, you have to respect the culture, right?" he said. "I care about Chinatown, too."
Sadikin recommended making the look of the logo and store more Chinese to integrate into the milieu.
Von Hochgotz also said he shops in Chinatown for supplies from neighbours: "I'm a big believer of keeping the money in the neighbourhood."
While the look helps to bridge the cross-cultural gap, the menu introduces customers to traditional Austrian recipes and techniques from his mother and grandmother, as Von Hochgotz comes from a family of bakers and chefs.
Even his dark roast coffee is made with traditional Viennese methods. He explains that they do pour-overs with a stainless steel cone without paper filter because the paper holds back oils, thus giving the coffee a stronger taste.
For coffeehounds, there are a number of Austrian coffee offerings to check out that you won't find at most other coffee shops, such as the Viennese Melange (espresso served with half-steamed milk and milk froth on top), Einspanner (double espresso, hot water, and whipped cream), and Franziskaner (black coffee with foamed milk and whipped cream).
They also serve palatschinken, or Austrian crepes. Unlike French crepes that are large but thin, Austrian crepes are smaller (about 8 to 9 inches) but thicker.
In actuality, the original plan was to first open a beer and schnitzel spot. Von Hochgotz explained, unfortunately, due to the building having been built before the current building code, they weren't able to get a permit for that from the city.
So instead, after talking with the Eagles Club North Vancouver, he took over their kitchen, which had been sitting empty. Von Hochgotz launched his catering services from that facility at 160 3rd Street West, which became Klaus's Schnitzel Haus three weeks ago in Lonsdale.
The banquet hall seat up to 120 people while the lounge bar can accommodate up to 80 people.
There, the menu focuses upon schnitzel ($10.50) and schnitzel sandwiches available with a range of sauces from dijon mustard to teriyaki or curry ($12).
Sadinkin said that they often have to educate people that schnitzel is not a sausage. Part of the confusion may come from the Austrian name, which is weiner schnitzel. It's not a weiner but is similar to pork cutlets.
There's also Austrian potato salad, which Von Hochgotz explained is different from German potato salad made with mayonnaise. The Austrian version is made by soaking potatoes in black pepper, garlic, oil, and vinegar (and no mayonnaise is used) and served with onions.
While the pair have been careful to pay tribute to Chinatown's cultural heritage through their décor to honour and appeal to Chinese Canadian locals, for their Austrian and German patrons, the pair have found it's often a different story when it comes to the menu's Austrian culinary heritage.
"It's not just the food itself sometimes," Sadinkin said. "It's more about bringing back their memories."