Venerable Sacha’s Café Keeps Reinventing its Daily Fare
By James Broida//Photos by Jon Braeley
One of the mysteries of Coral Gables is why the courtyard tables outside of Sacha’s Café are not jammed with people fighting over the seats. But that is part of Sacha’s charm. It’s like a secret garden, tucked behind Fleming’s, where you hear sounds of the fountain you pass in the colonnade entrance between Andalusia and Valencia on Ponce. And for customers who have been coming here for literally decades, they would like to keep it a secret. Our apologies to them.
Sacha’s is a breakfast and luncheon gourmet deli café, resting on the north side of a sunny courtyard, that serves inventive sandwiches, soups and salads. They do not put menus online, only the specials. But a typical day will have Mediterranean wraps with zucchini and hummus; turkey and brie baguette sandwiches with honey mustard; seared tuna with avocado, cucumbers and quinoa; and broiled salmon with greens and couscous.
“We always have salmon,” says Hans Viertl, the founder and owner of Sacha’s. “And it’s fresh every day, like everything else.” That mantra, of preparing everything from scratch each day, has propelled Viertl’s Coral Gables-based company into a thriving, multi-location business with a strong Euro Catering component. “We only make things for that day, so we run out of some of them by the end of day,” he says. But the results are worth it. Currently, there are two large Sacha’s, one in Blue Lagoon and one in Brickell, plus the cozy café in the Gables and the catering company that serves corporations, banks, airlines, etc. for meetings and training events. Up next are more small Grab ‘n’ Go outlets, the first of which opened in Blue Lagoon two years ago.
Viertl, a native of Munich, Germany, first arrived in South Florida in 1987. Working for Club Med since the mid ’70s, he was stationed here to run their Caribbean operations. But in 1994 Viertl decided to quit Club Med, raise a family in the Gables, and try his luck with a wine shop he purchased on Miracle Mile.
“It was Estate Wine when I bought it, and it became Estate Wine and Gourmet Food, back when there wasn’t much happening on Miracle Mile except bridal stores. At 5 p.m. you could roll up the sidewalk.”
A few years later Viertl opened his first restaurant, located in the Douglas Entrance building, which he ran for two decades then closed in 2016, when “the new landlord wanted out-of-the-sky prices for the lease.” Instead, Viertl purchased a building on Mediera Ave., which he used to house a commissary kitchen for the growing catering company he’d launched in 1995, and for his first Sacha’s Café. It opened that year in Blue Lagoon, followed three years later by the Gables location, and then Brickell in 2012.
Viertl’s spacious facility on Mediera now prepares all the daily dishes for the company’s clientele, many of whom have been loyal customers for decades. Frank Telders, an architect who walks to the Gables café from his office at nearby Luminaire, says he has been a follower of Viertl for more than 20 years. “The food is European, and I’m from the Netherlands” says Telders. “And it’s consistently good. But more importantly, it’s the personal service. That’s something we have in Europe.”
Indeed, like most successful long-term restaurateurs in the Gables, some of Viertl’s employees have been with him as long as 25 years, and many for 10, 15, or 20 years. “It’s not because I am a very nice guy, but because they like the hours,” Viertl says facetiously. “We close at 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, but we could only do that because I have very good employees.” Some start as early as 5 a.m., but most begin their workday at 7 a.m. “There are a lot of food purveyors out there, but the challenge is the good service,” says Viertl, who exudes a sense of good-humored optimism. “It is very important for us because we rely on customers in the building and the surrounding area. We can’t treat them like a tourist. You have to count on them.” Those relationships are so good, says Viertl, that “customers sometimes bring gifts for the employees. I am jealous…”
As for regrets, Viertl says he has few, except that the son he raised in Coral Gables decided not to follow his footsteps into the business. And the name of the café? “Sacha is the name of my son,” he says. “When we decided the name, that was it. But now, well, maybe it wasn’t the best thing we did,” he says, laughing.