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Chamber Report

Olson spreads the Cafe Intermezzo brand

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This month’s spotlight shines on style and charm.

If you’ve ever sat for hours, sipping coffee or wine in a European coffeehouse, you get the concept behind this month’s Member Spotlight – Café Intermezzo. Nominated by Erik Christensen, Chamber Board Treasurer and CEO of Bulldog Movers, Café Intermezzo is a Dunwoody icon of style and sophistication.

Christensen nominated Intermezzo not just because of its charm, but also because of its success in arguably the world’s toughest business. With the three-year failure rate of new independent restaurants at more than 90 percent Café Intermezzo is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

As the Southeast’s first (and only) authentic European coffeehouse, Café Intermezzo was also one of the original tenants of Park Place, for many the essence of local chic. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cappuccino and a scrumptious pastry at Intermezzo at midnight, you know it’s all about the experience.

Disclosure: I’m a devotee of Café Intermezzo. I’ve done business there, nurtured friendships there, met dates there and have taken my daughter there annually for 20 years to indulge in the elaborate “pastry tour” after a performance of “The Nutcracker.”

I’m not alone.

Founder and CEO Brian Olson based Café Intermezzo on a sociological concept called “the Third Place,” a place that offers a personal experience outside of home and work, a place of personal fulfillment that helps define who one is.

“Over the years, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have become engaged at Café Intermezzo,” said Olson. “We’re much more than the beverages and pastries. We’re a place of being.”

Olson modeled Intermezzo after the Konditorei he first encountered on a trip to Germany during his youth. A tradition in Europe since the first known coffeehouse opened in 1597 in Vienna, a Konditorei traditionally offers coffee, tea and a display of pastries in a casually elegant environment offering a refuge from life’s responsibilities.

Olson was so taken with the idea of someday opening his own European coffeehouse that he began keeping a journal of plans. Within four years, he had come up with the name Café Intermezzo and designed the logo. Within four more years, he had opened his first Konditorei, his Café Intermezzo at Park Place.

Opened in 1979, Café Intermezzo has the feel of an elaborate 1900-era Viennese coffeehouse – from the small bistro tables and iron chairs, heavy wooden doors, dark shiny wood, brass fixtures, mirrored walls and subdued European lighting to the scores of coffee beverages, 88 brewed teas and over 70 openly displayed pastries from a total list of 125.

If you’ve ever spent hours nursing a cup of coffee or tea at Café Intermezzo, uninterrupted by wait staff, you know that Intermezzo is all about the environment, as opposed to most American coffee shops, which are about production – i.e., making and serving the coffee for takeout.

“In the days before laptops, a Methodist minister used to come in once a week and spend all day writing his sermons,” said Olson. “Now customers come in and work on their laptops for hours.”

Both the environment and the clientele are clearly international, right down to the foreign language tapes playing in the restrooms – a concept that so impressed Arnold Schwarzenegger on a visit that he incorporated the idea into a nightclub that he co-owned.

Proof that Olson had it right all those years ago is that he has expanded his Dunwoody location three times, opened a second location in Brookwood, which he moved last year to Midtown, opened a licensed location at the Atlanta Airport and is getting ready to franchise the concept to other cities.

“Since the Dunwoody Café evolved over time, starting with very little money, I designed the Midtown Café to be the true European coffeehouse I’d long envisioned, complete with European antiques,” said Olson. “It’s the prototype for our franchise model.”

In keeping with its European origins, Café Intermezzo seats guests until 1 a.m. and serves them until they’re finished.

“We teach our staff a balance of service and leaving people alone. If a guest wants to sit for six hours and write a book,” he said, “we’re fine with that.”

Olson is a founding member of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, which he considers one of the best ways he can give back to the community.

If you’d like more information on the Dunwoody Chamber, please visit

Carol Niemi is an award-winning creative director who works with growing companies to define and build their brand. Reach her at