A Bit of Old Hungary in Southern CaliforniaOtto’s European and Hungarian Import Store & Deli is to an Eastern European foodie what FAO Schwartz is to a kid. The 3,000-square-foot store in Burbank, Calif. (about 5 minutes from Los Angeles), is packed from stem to stern with every imaginable food and cooking product. From imported Hungarian paprika to bogracs cooking kettles to housemade poppyseed and walnut rolls to made-to-spec sausages, Otto's has it and ships it worldwide.
How Otto's Got StartedThe business was founded by Otto and Irma Huber in 1969 and, since their deaths, is now owned by their children and spouses -- Tom Huber and Linda Kalocsay Huber, and Erika Huber Quiel and her husband, Erik Quiel.
"My father's business expertise came naturally. The Huber family actually started making and selling wines and a fruit brandy known as palinka in the 1800s in Lenti, Hungary, where my grandfather had a vineyard and many fruit trees," Tom Huber says.
When Otto left his beloved Hungary in 1955 to escape retribution for his freedom fighter days, he first went to Austria and then Pennsylvania where an uncle took him in. Otto soon tired of the cold winters and headed for Southern California in 1958. A successful business man, he took his pink Cadillac back to Hungary in 1965 and proposed to his childhood sweetheart, Irma, brought her back to the States and started a family in 1966 when Tom was born.
The young family moved to Burbank in 1969 and opened a small grocery store, importing Hungarian items for family and friends. Soon customers added to the list of requested items. Today, the store offers 3,000 products from 37 different countries, including Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.
Tom Huber Joins the BusinessWhen Irma Huber died in 1994, Tom Huber stepped in and took her place alongside his father, Otto.
"I knew the family secrets and recipes for stuffed peppers, jarred peppers, poppyseed and nut rolls, sausages, noodles and everything else, so it was the right fit," Tom says.
Tom makes trips to Hungary twice a year to hand pick products like their fine paprikas made from peppers grown especially for them, Christmas ornaments and candies (szaloncukor), Pick salamis, jams, jellies and condiments, cooking equipment, ice creams, cheeses, Hungarian horse whips, pottery, music, magazines, newspapers, and so much more.
"What we don't make in the U.S., we are very careful to choose items that are made by mom-and-pop farms that use organic, hormone-free ingredients," Tom says.
High Level of Customer Service"We try to find whatever a customer wants. If we can import it, we will do our best to get it in. We are dedicated to our customers and have a passion for perpetuating Hungarian food and culture, and the food and culture of other parts of Central and Eastern Europe," Tom says.
Celebrity MagnetNot only is Otto's a magnet for the high school students down the street who love the deli's sandwiches, but for Hollywood celebrities like Henry Winkler, the Gabor sisters and others. The store is used for movie ("Die Hard 3") and product shots (Charmin bathroom tissue), and Wolfgang Puck orders poppyseed and nut rolls for his restaurant from Otto's.
Online Sales LeaderIn 1994, Otto's became one of the first companies to feature a catalog of items on the Web, including the largest selection of Hungarian wines outside of Hungary, and Croatian, Romanian, Turkish and Polish wines and liqueurs including nalewka.
"We carry every beer surrounding Hungary but not Hungarian beers because they don't pasteurize it and it wouldn't keep well," Tom says.
"Some customers come into our store and break down in tears because they haven’t had this kind of food in 40 years or more and it brings back such a flood of memories to them."