By Nicole Macon
Clara Dunn searches the aisles of German Gourmet with her husband John for the perfect Mother’s Day gift for John’s mother, who is from Austria. The store’s chocolate section catches Clara’s eye, particularly the Asbach chocolates. She picks up one of these rectangular boxes with a green-yellow border labeled Edle Bohnen.
“It’s filled with brandy,” Clara said. “In fact, that’s what I’m going to get Vicki and we’ll get some for ourselves.”
German Gourmet, at 5838 Columbia Pike in Falls Church, has been serving customers like the Dunns who want a taste of Europe in Falls Church for 50 years. The store carries a variety of meats, cheeses, baked goods and grocery items from not only German-speaking countries such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but also goods from Scandinavia.
Current owners Michael and Cliff Haene took over in 1997 when the previous owner, Raimund Pagani, retired. The Haene brothers weren’t new to German Gourmet or to the food industry before they became the store’s owners – they were a part of a family-owned bakery that sold cakes to the shop.
Raised by Swiss immigrants, the Haene brothers had also been exposed to many of the foods sold at German Gourmet since childhood, both at home and through several family trips to Switzerland.
All of these factors, including Cliff’s business experience and Mike’s culinary training, helped them prepare for their responsibilities at German Gourmet.
“The bakery fit in great with the food service,” Cliff said. “So now it was a matter of expanding into a bit more cooking, and a bit more wines, beers and groceries.”
Pagani guided the brothers and helped them transition into this new business.
“It was a great wealth of knowledge to draw on from Raimund and he really walked us through learning all these different things,” Cliff said.
But German Gourmet’s former location on Lee Highway – with only four parking spaces, and one little stove and sink in the kitchen – was too small for the Haene brothers to carry out their vision of the store. The brothers were set on finding a larger space.
The new location, where German Gourmet has been for nearly five years, has allowed the Haene brothers to expand their product line, particularly pre-prepared products. Their salad selection has doubled, and there is still room for products such as stews like Hungarian goulash and sauerbraten (pot roast), which Cliff said reflects a growing trend to simplify preparing meals at home.
“It’s very easy to take one of the frikadellen (meat patties) or the rouladen (a slice of meat rolled around a filling) and just finish it off at home and in a few minutes you have a meal that’s ready to go,” Cliff said.
As summer approaches, Michael plans to introduce brochettes (skewers) to the menu in a variety of flavors such as Hungarian beef, Jamaican jerk, and chicken tandoori, and a sausage kebob, where he will take some German sausages, cut them up, and put them on a skewer.
The brothers work with local Swiss, Austrian, and German butchers to offer products like head cheese, a meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig.
Jeni Schneemann drove from Arlington to get to the shop, but she said she has the same culinary experience as in Augsburg, Germany, where she was an exchange student in 2006.
“It’s exactly the kind of stuff I ate there,” Sheneemann said. “So whether it’s the ketchups or the mustards or the wursts, it’s all awesome.”
The Haene brothers work with importers to stock their shelves with products such as Kinder chocolates, Augustiner beer, and Haribo licorice. While the Haene brothers try to bring a variety of products to their shelves, they are limited because they are not large enough to import themselves, and the very nature of some products prevents them from ever arriving to the U.S.
“There’s a ton of food, different beers, different wines that will never come across to the U.S. just because they don’t export, they don’t have enough to export or the demand would not be big enough to make sense for an importer,” Cliff said.
Customers who have come from as far as Maine can now get products from German Gourmet without making the trek to Falls Church. The store now allows customers to purchase selected products online with a minimum $25 purchase at germangourmet.com.
The Haene brothers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the store by giving away a $50 gift certificate to the 50th customer for the first 50 Saturdays of this year.