Cozy neighborhood joint Cafe Katja, at 79 Orchard St., is almost ready to reopen after a summer of renovations that will double its capacity and open up new menu options, including lunch service.
Andrew Chase and Erwin Schrottner, the owners of the petite five-year-old Austrian cafe, jumped on the opportunity when the space next door became vacant last year, designing a bigger, more functional restaurant that retains Katja’s homey, intimate feel. They removed a 25-inch-thick brick wall, unifying the two storefronts with a new U-shaped slate bar, reclaimed-wood plank floors and custom metalwork that includes tall streetside windows they can fling open in nice weather.
“Basically, it’s going to be the same, but with more seats, another bathroom and windows that open,” Chase said yesterday. “Also, we have a real working kitchen now.”
The new Katja, which is about three weeks from completion, will accommodate twice as many diners, with 54 seats. Its new kitchen, which runs across the rear wall and is somewhat open to the dining room, will be much more functional, with a large gas range replacing the two tiny electric burners that used to serve for the whole menu.
“The reason the old Katja worked so well was because the menu was heavily edited,” Chase said. “We knew exactly what we could do — and what we couldn’t.”
For example, Schrottner said, the switch from electric to gas will enable the partners to offer weiner schnitzel, a traditional staple of Austrian fare their old kitchen wasn’t capable of producing. Additional storage, including a second walk-in refrigerator installed in the now much larger basement, will allow for a broader menu, including the addition of more vegetarian and lighter-fare options that Chase and Schrottner hope will combat the stereotype that Austrian cuisine is heavy, cold-weather-only food.
The upfit will also enable an expansion of hours: when it reopens, Cafe Katja will serve weekday lunch and weekend brunch six days a week.
The lunch service, which will start a few weeks after the dining room reopens for dinner, will feature salads and sandwiches, including quick take-out options for local workers on their lunch break.
“Being here, on Orchard Street during the daytime every day, it became clear to us that there was room for a lunch place,” Chase said.
Chase and Schrottner, who both worked in a variety of other restaurants before opening Katja in 2007, put in plenty of their own elbow grease on the renovations, designing and adjusting the floorplan using a cardboard cut-outs of the bar as a model, and even doing a lot of the painting themselves. The months since the restaurant closed in July have been a change of pace for the pair, who have worked nights for most of their careers.
Down the road, the partners envision opening a second restaurant, a different concept than Katja, with a garden or other outdoor space. That project went on the back burner for a bit this summer.
“We were very close to getting a second space when boom, out of the blue, this space became available,” Schrottner said.