Oktoberfest will have an added meaning in Plano this fall, when Jörg’s Cafe Vienna celebrates its 20th anniversary. Cathy and Jörg Fercher opened their doors in September 2002, and their bar and biergarten helped make downtown Plano a destination. When I stopped by to interview the Ferchers ahead of the anniversary, our conversation was punctuated by the sounds of future schnitzels being pounded thin and by customers booking tables the old-fashioned way: on the phone, which Jörg answers himself. The recipes and commitment to quality haven’t changed. And neither has Jörg’s deadpan sense of humor. “I still have broken English,” the native Austrian said. “At some point I stopped learning because people liked my accent.”
The Ferchers think 60 percent of the customers at Jörg’s Cafe Vienna are regulars, many of whom have been coming for a decade or more. Two long-timers, nicknamed Mom and Dad, sit at the same barstools each Saturday night. Another seat bears a nameplate honoring the late regular who frequently occupied it. Cathy keeps a file of handwritten thank-you letters she has received from customers over the years. “How many restaurants get thank-you letters?” she asks.
Much has changed since they opened 20 years ago: downtown Plano has flourished and grown, other German and Austrian restaurants have opened and closed, a pandemic swept across the globe. But inside Jörg’s, the changes are subtler: new pictures on the wall, a new bartop (built by a customer’s father), draft lager from 4-year-old Altstadt Brewery in Fredericksburg.
Seated across the bar from each other, Jörg and Cathy recount the history of the restaurant, going all the way back to its roots in Jörg’s upbringing.
The Recipe Inheritance
When Jörg’s mother, a former culinary arts instructor, died of breast cancer in 1988, he brought her recipes to the United States. To this day, her food is the core of the menu at Jörg’s, modified only for the United States’ different supply of ingredients. The Fercher family’s roots in the far south of Austria, near the Italian border, are clear in the frequent use of grains and olive oil, and in a 70-year-old family recipe for tiramisu.
A Frantic Opening Week
A line of guests snaked down 15th Street before the doors opened on Jörg’s first day. “We opened at 4:30 and sold out of everything by 8:30,” Jörg recalls. Having already spent a year renovating the historic building, the couple pulled long, hard days that first week, staying up until 4 am and returning to begin prep work after breakfast.
An Encounter with Wolfgang Puck
When Jörg’s father died, he hid in the kitchen, sinking into grief and wondering whether he could continue working at the restaurant. Then, at an industry event, he heard another guest speaking in his own Carinthian accent. It was Wolfgang Puck, in Dallas working on Five Sixty. Meeting a compatriot, Jörg felt overcome. “I told him my whole sad story,” he recalls. “I think I needed to speak my problems in my own language. I used to call my father every week, and I didn’t have that anymore.” Puck’s consolation did the trick. After that meeting, Jörg told Cathy he was committed to staying on.
The Community Rallies
“Our customers really helped us through the pandemic, ordering food to go and leaving big tips,” Cathy says. “If it wasn’t for them, we probably would have had to close down. And it was people who had been coming for years and years and years.”
More Than One Anniversary
The Ferchers are not just celebrating 20 years of restaurant ownership this summer. They’ve also been married for 35 years this July. Many a relationship has ended in wreckage after the happy couple opens a restaurant together. What’s the Ferchers’ secret? “We’re totally different,” Cathy says. “I’m more business-oriented, more numbers-oriented. I like to be behind the scenes. He loves to be the center of attention and the star of the show. I think what works for us is we are so different.”
Then she looks across the bar at her husband. “But I own the business, so I could fire you any time.”