Lonely Planet Writer

How cake and coffee brought this Viennese community together

On a quiet street in the Austrian capital, a cafe is using the power of cake to bridge a gap between generations and tackle the growing problem of loneliness among the elderly.

Vollpension - bridging the generation gap with cakes
The Viennese cafe bridging the gap between young and old. Photo by: Ryan Barrell

Vollpension, on Schleifmühlgasse in Vienna, is a coffee shop with a unique concept. Started initially as a pop-up before opening their brick-and-mortar location in 2015, the cosy cafe aims to foster nostalgia by employing grandmas (Omas) and grandpas (Opas) to share their tried-and-tested recipes with customers who may be feeling out of touch with their elders.

The elderly bakers bring their own recipes and mix with younger service staff who serve up typical Viennese coffees and trendy espresso-based drinks. Many of the Omas and Opas relish the opportunity to connect with younger people as their children have moved to other cities or have families of their own to care for.

Standing out among the many hip artisan coffee shops around the city, Vollpension has a particularly homely feel with family portraits filling the walls and tasselled lampshades fostering memories of days past.

The Viennese cafe where young and old bake together
Vollpension, where cafe and coffee bring the community together. Photo by: Ryan Barrell

The managers say it is a “place where the old and young can connect,” with younger customers flocking to experience the same smells and flavours they associate with their childhoods. “Only grandmas can bake like this,” the shop’s manager told Lonely Planet “We [the founders] are all from the countryside, and there it’s very normal that the old and young are, on a daily basis, connecting and talking,” co-founder Hannah Lux said. “We realised that since we live in the city, we’re not really in touch with our grandparents’ generation anymore. And at the same time, you always hear that there are so many elderly people sitting in their apartments and not getting out.”

Margit, a 59-year-old who started working at Vollpension in November 2017, says her favourite thing to bake is tarts or anything with pumpkin seeds. “It’s a lot of fun working at this place, especially since the working atmosphere is amazing here,” she added.

From classic Austrian sachertorte and mohnkuchen to vegan brownies and delectable cheesecakes, locals are enamoured with the rotation of more than 200 different tortes, cakes and bakes provided by 12 Omas and Opas (sometimes with fruit from their own gardens).

Vollpension cafe in Vienna
Tables must be reserved three weeks in advance at Vollpension. Photo by: Ryan Barrell

The cafe has become so popular, weekend diners must reserve tables three weeks in advance to sample the seniors’ cakes among the vintage furniture and the unmistakable scent of home-baked treats.

Not only does this unique coffee shop provide senior citizens with a job to supplement their pensions, it also gives them a community space where they always feel welcome and the opportunity to learn new skills. From theatre trips to yoga classes, the multi-generational staff regularly take the time to connect outside of the kitchen and learn new things from each other during working hours – from baking tips and new languages to life advice and the wisdom that usually only comes with a long life.

From the self-service cake station to the layout of the space, everything in this café is designed to encourage people to talk to each other and share their wisdom, stories and advice.

By Ryan Barrell