When I think of my Oma, I think of the fine cord braids at the bottom of her green suede lamp that I couldn’t keep my fingers away from, and her fabulous Powidlkipferl (small croissant-shaped pastry filled with plum marmalade).
A whole bunch of different, very elaborate cake and cookie creations were part of her repertoire. Very early on, I figured that Omas have magical baking powers.
Oma, or Omi, means granny in German, and is a very intimate term to call your grandmother. Though sometimes I borrow it to label random older women on the street to define their loveliness.
At Vollpension, a comfy café in Vienna’s 4th district, Omas are the bakers and the characters of the place. And while offering plates filled with cake and pastry art, they also fill you with that inexplicable warm homey-ness feeling they naturally emenate.
Vollpension is a social business offering seniors the oppurtunity to escape their sometimes dull and lonely lives, and earn a little extra money – a necessity that seems to be more present than one might think, if you consider the 4–5 applications Vollpension receives every day.
Starting as a popup shop by Gebrüder Stitch (a Viennese tailored jeans brand), the concept soon proved to be a winner. They handed over the business to Hannah Lux and her team who saw the cafe/bar find a home in a corner cellar space on Schleifmühlgasse.
When I meet the manager, Hannah, Vollpension is packed. So we sit down at the kid’s table – a small antique side table with a funny pattern, a crocheted tea cloth and a flower in a vase on top. The place is full of people, wholeheartedly immersed in their conversations, their glasses of wine and the genuinely homey atmosphere radiating amidst the bare-brick walls painted white.
“Our guests are supposed to feel like being at their Oma’s place,” Hannah tells me.
If the Omas standing behind the counter, baking, don’t give you this feeling, the interior decoration of the place will definitely do the trick. Donated vintage furniture, walls covered by old family pictures, old lamps giving off warm light – the combination creates an ambience of which you might recognise from your Oma’s living room, but it’s been infused with an injection of young, hip life.
“We also wanted to create a connection point for people of all generations. It’s not easy for young and old people to connect in everyday life.”
Hannah is right. Apart from stumbling upon the occasional random words traded with an Oma or Opa on a tram or the subway, I rarely interact with the elderly. In Vollpension, I feel an immediate need to change that by asking them to tell me their stories. And if I can have a piece of cake.
Stories are another source for Vollpension’s appeal. Like the one from the staff member, Charlotte, who worked as a chambermaid at the Hotel Imperial for her entire life, and one day found a Rolling Stone band member passed out in one of the beds.
Hannah and her 3 colleagues handle a team consisting of 31 people, including kitchen staff and waitresses, made up of about 18 Omas and 2 Opas (male Omas). Each one of them possess their own cake and pie specialties.
“There is not really a favourite cake or bestseller. The freshest ones are the first ones being eaten up.”
Thanks to the four neon-coloured ovens hanging up on the wall above the cake cabinet, you always have an eye on what’s just about to come out of the oven.
The place is not just cakes and Omas. While serving sweet desserts and the accompanying hot beverage selection, the café also offers breakfast, a bountiful weekend brunch, small savoury dishes like Spinatknödel or Toast Hawaii and alcohol concoctions with novel names.
There’s a naughty side to this Nanna hangout, with weekend nights carrying on late, including on Friday night’s regular DJ event, Club Flamingo. There’s a more than adequate selection of wine, beer, long drinks, eggnog and other spirits that will turn this place into one of your new favourite evening hangouts.
I find myself already imagining my next boozy night here and sharing a gin and tonic and some stories with one of the Omas.
While I sit there sipping on my Kleiner Brauner, a group of older ladies enjoy their glasses of Prosecco while chatting loudly and vibrantly, a middle-aged couple enjoy a glass of red wine and an intimate talk, and a bunch of friends in their early twenties are meeting over coffee and cake. And now and again, I spot one of the aproned Omas chatting with the guests and huge, warm smiles are exchanged.