Unfortunately, I had neither tea nor wine accompanying my afternoon interview with Kafka co-owner Michael Scharber. Having just returned from a trip, Michael graciously and excitedly chatted up all things Lakeview while riding in a cab from O'Hare back to the shop—the beloved neighborhood staple that is Kafka Wine Co.
The shop's other owner, Joe Kafka, teamed up with Michael in early 2003 to start planning the pair's dream business. Their endeavor seemed a no-brainer: The two had bonded over wine during their college years while everyone else was drinking beer and hard liquor.
With backgrounds in customer service (Michael worked for an airline and also in luxury cosmetics for Chanel) and detailed perfection for the big picture (Joe worked in film editing/post-production), Michael describes their synergy as a perfect balance that has made Kafka Wines a great success: "Joe makes it taste good, but I make it feel good."
Another testament to the shop's taste and feel: Michael and Joe have never done advertising, but instead believe in the power of word-of-mouth and an open-door policy (they left the door open during the weeks of setting up shop, and the people and questions started pouring in). Those same people and a whole lot more keep coming back for the 250 wines under $15, the tasting notes and pairing suggestions, and effortless community feel. Here's some of what Michael shared with me about his favorite neighborhood:
As a popular place to pick up a bottle before heading to a local restaurant, what's your favorite Lakeview BYOB dining spot?
Definitely pingpong on Broadway; the General's Chicken is my favorite thing to order. When I go I make sure to take along a fruity white wine. Part of our service at Kafka is suggesting which wines should be taken to which restaurants.
If I were to come to your neighborhood, where else would you insist I visit?
I have an ongoing list...for visitors, Wrigley Field of course, and Muskie's for hamburgers. Mia Francesca is an institution for fantastic Italian, and I love Pastoral (Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine). For shopping, I'd send people to Beatnix for fun, funky clothing.
Favorite wine bar in town?
X/O just up the street from us has a great wine bar. And arriving soon (we are so excited) is Winebar, which will be an addition to Minibar—a great local martini joint.
Who do you know in Chicago that our readers should know?
Linda Little at Pepper Lounge, a longtime bartender and one of the reasons I keep going back. Linda makes amazing martinis and her humor and hospitality couldn't be more perfect. Plus, they serve until 1 a.m.
Favorite hidden gem in Chicago?
Oh, the Original Pancake House on Clark Street. It's in the basement of some apartment building.
Favorite shopping destination when you're not thinking about wine?
Oak Street. Seriously, Barney's!
Three words that best describe Kafka?
Cheap. Easy. Fun.
Visit kafkawine.com for more wine-y info.