The proprietors of tiny Cafe Katja couldn’t be happier with the way their restaurant has grown over the last four years: they have a devoted local customer base, a supportive community of fellow business owners on the block and a great menu of Austrian specialties. What they don’t have is room.
But that’s about to change: Under plans Andrew Chase and Erwin Schrottner submitted to Community Board 3 last week, Cafe Katja will roughly double its square footage by taking over the empty storefront next door, at 77 Orchard St., where former hat shop Still Life recently closed.
“We love everything about Cafe Katja just the way it is, except for one thing: we don’t have enough space,” Chase tells The Lo-Down. “Most of our clientele are local folks, and it’s really hard when they come in and there’s no room for them to sit.”
CB3’s SLA committee signed off on the proposal, which will require an expansion of the restaurant’s full liquor license. Design drawings and building permits are under way, but Chase hesitates to set a timeline on the completion of the revamp, citing the unpredictability of construction. The rough plan is to knock down the brick wall that divides the new space from the old, uniting it into one storefront as much as possible given the structural elements of the 1910 building.
In addition to adding more seats to the existing 24, the L-shaped bar will be lengthened, the kitchen will gain a little more elbow room, and a second bathroom will be added, Chase says.
“We really, really want to keep the feeling of the place,” says Chase, who opened Cafe Katja in October 2007 with Schrottner, an Austrian native, after both men had successful careers cooking for other restaurateurs, including the Mark Hotel and Monkey Bar. Approaching their fourth anniversary, the partners are becoming old-timers on the fast-changing block between Grand and Broome streets, along with pioneers 88 Orchard restaurant and The Roasting Plant coffee shop.
“Our main aim is to make sure that we can accommodate everyone,” he says. “Right now, we know there are times during the week when we don’t see certain people; they don’t come in because they know we’re crowded.”
No big menu changes are planned, Chase says, though the new space may offer an opportunity for a few additions to their current offerings, which include a variety of housemade sausages, spaetzle and liverwurst, as well as excellent pork loin and reuben sandwiches.
Looking ahead, Chase says, “We’re so, so happy with how everything is turning out.” That’s a good thing, too, because they plan to be doing this awhile: part of the expansion plan includes an extension of their lease until 2025.