High-altitude pizzeria builds fame and a following
FROM THE MARCH 27-APRIL 9 PRINT EDITION: Beyond the edge of Óbuda, a former news anchor runs a popular bar and eatery that has become a magnet for locals and the media set.
The place is nearly full, and when you look at the happy faces around you, all your troubles are gone. Taking another sip of your premium beer intensifies the impression. It’s a standard Monday evening in Ürömi Hütte, a new destination for diners, drinkers and the media set in the Hungarian capital. And the moment you enter, you just know there’s something extraordinary about the place.
The location is almost as odd as the name: a hilltop in Üröm, a trendy village hosting chic, newly built neighborhoods on the border of Budapest’s district 3. But what on earth draws people from all over to this eatery, even on weekdays and only one and a half years after opening?
Not as simple as it seems
The restaurant’s motto, “Pizza & Beer” hints at simplicity. Yet if you scratch the surface, a carefully crafted model is revealed. “Pizza was chosen as a lead product as this is a food that you can’t get bored with, and beer is also something everybody likes,” owner András Sváby tells the Budapest Business Journal.
That’s pretty much where simplicity ends, though, since the concept was to achieve fine dining in a market segment where it was previously beyond imagination. Part of the trick is that all the ingredients such as flour, yeast, and olive oil are shipped from Italy. What makes the real difference, though, is the magic of lead chef István Szür. “István has worked in a previous restaurant of mine and I insisted on h im being on board”, Sváby said. Szür was thrilled to do more than just pizza, no matter how perfectly it was made, and variety has also been something sought by the clientele from very early on.
Fine dining reinterpreted
Initially they wanted fare such as Spätzle (a soft egg noodle or dumpling) or Germknödel (a yeast dough dumpling filled with jam) typical menu items that are normally available only in the hütte cabin restaurants of Austrian ski resorts. Tastes since have expanded into other dishes, but whatever you order, the chef plays strictly by gourmet rules, using premium ingredients and composing meals in an artistic fashion. The drink choices also follow this approach, with high−quality beer and top−notch wines offered.
“Everybody wanted to talk me out of the investment, especially because of the location. But I felt Üröm needs a place where you can stop by for a drink or grab some great food at a fair price, and to chat in a laid−back fashion, just like being at home,” the owner notes. Not only locals are flocking there, however. Thanks to a professional Facebook campaign, a die− hard fan base with a diverse geographic background has built up.
Hikers were expected to be a major target audience because of the nearby nature trails, but they never really came. Instead many high−profile customers from politics, media, and business circles frequent the tables. Riding that wave at last New Year’s Eve celebrations, former radioman Péter Radnai was DJ−ing.
Switching on the fireplace
Although Sváby himself is a former well−known television anchor, he prefers keeping a low profile in this regard. But that doesn’t mean he is not involved in the restaurant’s everyday operation. In fact, he posts three to five times a day on Facebook to keep fans updated. More hard work is put in by co−owner Peter Felfalusi, CEO of a multinational credit management company, and also by the partners’ wives, Enikő and Kati. “A key to success is the owner’s permanent presence,” Sváby stresses. “That’s why a franchise system is out of question. Time−wise it wouldn’t work.”
Enlarging the place may concern only a terrace, to meet increased demand, and the kitchen was given a face−lift for the same reason. “Home delivery could boost sales, but I’m not fond of it. It compromises quality and you miss the ‘hütte’ feeling. At some point it may become a sub−brand,” Sváby explains.
His passion for gastronomy and his experience with his former eatery helps bring him to such conclusions. That’s also how he designed the interior with his wife. The seemingly simple wooden cabin decor actually has an awful lot of thought behind it, and it is complemented by a video screen playing shots of a fireplace on loop. “Interior designers freaked out because of it, but I bought the software for 17 bucks anyway. Now some people specifically book the table underneath it,” Sváby says.
The personal touch
The charm of the place has a lot to do with team spirit, too. The personnel get special training to pay close attention to guests. They remember regulars’ names, favorite dishes, and where they like to sit. Service is superpolite, friendly and professional; to often a rarity in the Hungarian gastronomy wilderness.
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