Culture Karma: Searching for Coffee in South Laguna

By Randy Kraft
By Randy Kraft

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not drink coffee. Never got the taste for it, although I love the scent. What I do like is to sit at a comfy café chatting with friends, reading or writing.

I enjoy the energy of human connection, the occasional eavesdrop on conversation, and the warmth of a cozy space on a chilly day or the contrast of sea breezes buffered by heaters on an outdoor patio.

You might say I am a café hound, the daytime equivalent of a lounge lizard.

Every neighborhood enjoys a favorite coffee café and Laguna has plenty. However, with the demise of Café Vienna, South Laguna has lost its center. Other than the Starbucks outpost at Albertson’s, there is no coffee café south of Koffee Klatch in the Hip District until you cross the border into Dana Point.

I whiled away many hours at Café Vienna over the years. Servers were friendly and speedy. Omelets and soups were hearty and the healthy harvest muffin especially good [still available at Heidelberg Café.] In summer, Vienna opened for dinner, white tablecloths and all, providing an oasis for locals seeking shelter from downtown. Prices were reasonable and seemed to remain constant throughout the six years I was a patron [perhaps a clue to their ultimate demise.]

The Lettners sold off their ownership in Heidelberg Café a couple of years earlier and provided the food service to the Sands Café at Aliso Beach, so they spent more time at Café Vienna, with many slices of veal for dogs and warm welcomes for regulars. For some, Café Vienna was the South Laguna Community Center. Lots of planning meetings have been held there. In fact, I interviewed there for my first job with the Indy.

How can a community like South Laguna, filled as it is with artists and architects, gardeners and community activists, keep folks in the hood without a café? The donut shop and Papa’s Tacos are great, there are good restaurants, and Coyote Grill has a thriving bar scene and an excellent weekend breakfast/brunch, but where can one sip a cappuccino and read the Indy? Vienna was the place, and now it’s gone, and those of us who live on the south side of town mourn its passing.

Neopolitan took Café Vienna’s place – a gourmet wood-fired pizza bistro with fine food and a hipper, fresher decor. Café Vienna was definitely in need of sprucing up. However, at Neo, no breakfast, no Austrian pastry, no veggie burgers for lunch. No place to while away the hours with endless refills of iced-tea. I hang out now at Pain du Monde in Monarch Beach, where the food and drink are quite good and the crowd lively, but way south of South Laguna.


Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for

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  1. Randy,
    As always, I really enjoyed your article. I miss everybody so much….all my regulars in Vienna throughout the years, their babies I got to see come this world, their dogs I got to treat, their joys, achievements, heartaches and sorrows….it was a pleasure making everybody’s morning with a fresh cup of coffee and goodies a little better.
    I am always on a lookout for a venue in South Laguna for another Cafe Vienna. I would bring it back in no time, if I could find a proper site for another cafe.
    Please let me know, if you or any of your readers have a knowledge of a venue that could work!
    Hugs and wishing you a Happy New Year,

    Eva (cafe Vienna)


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