Slice of life: this Austrian café staffed by seniors hits the sweet spot

written by Jo Stewart December 9, 2022
A birds-eye-view of a table covered in slices of cake

This year, we’re encouraging travellers to connect with new cultures through food. Check out our Travel Goals for 2023 for more inspiration. 

A very special café in Vienna is bridging the gap between generations, one cake at a time.

Vienna’s café culture is so legendary, UNESCO added the city’s coffee houses to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011. Popping into a café for a slice of strudel and an einspänner (Viennese coffee with whipped cream) isn’t just something locals and visitors alike have done for centuries – it’s the quintessential way to experience Austria’s capital.

While many tourists make a beeline for Vienna’s famous, traditional coffee houses, a growing number of savvy caffiene-seekers are heading to Vollpension: a new-ish kid on the block that’s adding another layer to the already rich culinary (and social) fabric of the city. And Intrepid travellers will get a chance to visit on our Highlights of Central Europe trip in 2023.

Baking for world peace

Three older staff members working at a cake shop. They are all smiling.
Frau Marianne and her Vollpension friends and colleagues © Mark Glassner

Vollpension (German for “full pension”) has taken off in a big way since it launched in 2012, and why wouldn’t it? Aiming to support seniors at risk of old-age poverty and social isolation, the café provides employment, community and connection for many of Vienna’s older residents. That’s right – this wholesome café with a purpose is run by a team of sprightly seniors with supreme cake-baking skills. Stepping into Vollpension is like receiving a warm hug (and slice of cake) from your beloved granny or grandpa.

The team behind Vollpension believe that a cake baked with love by a granny has tremendous power. So much so that it could potentially save the world. If nothing else, sitting down for some cake and coffee is an instant cure for a day that’s gone pear-shaped. Catering for those in need of comfort and connection is what Vollpension does so well.

Co-Founder David Haller is delighted by the far-reaching impacts of Vollpension.

“It means the world to me. We never thought that our little idea would have such an impact. From the great life stories, awesome events and breathtaking encounters to the hundreds of thousands of cakes made with love, Vollpension is a project that comes from the heart and goes right back to the heart – not only mine, but to those of everyone involved,” he says.

All the world’s a stage

Frau Marianne in her element © Mark Glassner

What began as a pop-up concept is now a bit of a juggernaut, with multiple outlets employing a legion of cake-baking seniors who happily don their aprons in the name of baking top notch cakes that keep customers coming back time and time again.

But the customers are not the only ones benefiting. Vollpension also enables older Austrians to boost their income and supports seniors at risk of social isolation to form new connections with people of all ages.

At 77 years old, Frau Marianne is currently living her best life serving sweet treats and hot drinks to Vollpension’s customers. Having lived in Vienna all her life, she’s the perfect ambassador for the city that receives millions of visitors each year. She spent most of her working life as a secretary for a law firm (“Unofficially I was the head of the company, because I took care of almost everything”) and now enjoys using all the social skills she’s acquired throughout her lifetime to welcome customers to the cafe.

“I’m now in my seventh year at Vollpension and I still love it every day. I found out about it through an advertisement. Since I’m very outgoing I immediately called, got an interview, and here I am, seven years later,” says Frau Marianne, who is also an amateur actress in her free time.

“Vollpension is my stage, where I can perform and do what I do best: be communicative, laugh and learn new life stories,” she explains.

Life is like a box of chocolates

Frau Marianne and David at Vollpension ©

As a place where people from all walks of life come together to share friendship, news and laughs over a slice of sachertorte, glass of organic lemonade or mug of tea, many new relationships have formed at Vollpension. Frau Marianne recalls a memorable moment with a customer:

“I had a very special encounter once, which still makes me smile. A very handsome man liked my cake serving skills and asked me to marry him. I was very flattered and said yes, but he then said that he had to ask his wife if it was okay with her. We never ended up getting married of course, but everyone in the coffeehouse was laughing and cheering us on.”

Seasoned travellers know nothing beats a local recommendation when it comes to finding the best bites in a new city. So what should you order when you visit Vollpension? For co-founder David, it’s all about the cake.

“Every baking oldie has their own recipes and specialties. In a way, Vollpension is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’ll get.”

Header image – Vollpension cakes © Mark Glassner

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