I couldn’t decide: Beet hummus with cilantro, or lentils and cream cheese with chives? The toppings couldn’t be more different, but which would pair better with stewed mushrooms and tomatoes? It was early fall around sunset, still warm enough to eat outside a little longer, but a sudden breeze forced me to make a decision for my handbröd, a palm-sized roll stuffed with cheese or vegetables and with my choice of toppings. I went with the lentils and cream cheese, paid — 3.50 euros ($4.06) with the optional topping — and ripped off a corner. The pastry was tender and buttery, the filling still warm, a nice counterpoint to the cool, creamy topping. The biggest surprise, however, were the chives; I didn’t expect to get fresh herbs in a dish from Ikea.
When Ikea opened its Vienna location in the fall, the handbröd was the featured dish of the company’s newest food concept, an entirely vegetarian snack bar called Toppen located on the building’s rooftop terrace. This location counts among the compact city stores Ikea has been testing out in recent years that, in contrast to its sprawling suburban stores, forgo the maze of a showroom and the warehouse in order to be located in urban centers — this one is on top of Westbahnhof, one of the busiest underground stations in the city — and thus have fewer products available in the store.
Even before a pandemic forced nearly all aspects of our lives online, many brick-and-mortar stores have been searching for ways to lure customers into their physical locations. More than any other existing Ikea city store, the Vienna location seems to be doing this with food, most of it vegetarian. In addition to the standard Swedish restaurant (think meatballs) and bistro (think hot dogs and cinnamon rolls) found in all Ikeas, as well as a cafe serving coffee and cake, Ikea Vienna Westbahnhof has Toppen sitting on the building’s rooftop terrace, a novelty in and of itself.
The restaurant is accessible even when the furniture isn’t, staying open on Sundays, which is otherwise respected across Austria as a day of rest for businesses. On the FAQ page for the new location, there’s a section dedicated to food-related questions, and one of them asks whether Ikea’s food is available for delivery. The answer: not yet, though maybe in the future.
Operating a restaurant is never a sure business move, especially since, as the past two years have shown, in-person dining is basically always another airborne pandemic away from closure. But with this new location, the world’s largest furniture retailer seems to be asking: Can Ikea survive by doing just that?
One does not necessarily go to eat at Ikea to be blown away by the freshest local specialties. In fact, one generally doesn’t eat at a chain restaurant if they want to be surprised at all. We eat at those places because they’re convenient and consistent and usually cheap,