Walking down the heart of Vienna, you might see a lovely grandmother baking some delicious treats through the window or even be invited in this cosy place by its welcoming scent of delicious baked cakes. This is Vollpension, a brunch restaurant and coffee shop in Vienna, Austria, who works as a social business to employ elderly professionals and help to give them more quality of life. Once inside, it is hard not to feel instantly at home – a friendly grandpa will welcome you with a warm smile and you will be mesmerized by the home-felt decoration.
Vollpension works as a home away from home for everyone – the customers and the staff. With a team of Opas and Omas (German words for “grandfather” and “grandmother” respectively) and younger staff, this establishment combines the warmth of our grandparents’ houses with the youth of a modern business.
Some of the decoration comes from the elder staff – the table numbers are printed in childhood portraits of them. Also, all the cutlery and mugs have different colours and designs, just like the way we accumulate distinguish home decor with emotional attachment. Every time you go to Vollpension, you are in for a surprise: the cake and pie menu always changes! The daily specials depend on whoever is the Opa working on that day.
The Circular had the opportunity to talk to them about the experience of running a successful social project such as Vollpension:
1. My first thought when I went inside the Vollpension was this “I am home” feeling because it reminded me of a cosy grandma’s house. Could you please tell me how the idea first started – not only the concept of hiring older staff but also the design and decoration style.
We all missed the baking skills and great cakes from our grandmas. We are all from the countryside and missed the daily interaction with older people in the city. That’s why we created grannies public living room, a second home for many, old and young in the city.
2. How was the public reception to the place?
We first started in 2012 with a pop-up store, and turned a tailor-shop into grannies temporary coffee shop. 2 years later, after a couple of successful pop-ups, we agreed to try and turn Vollpension project into a permanent and financially sustainable social business. The reception was from the beginning on always extraordinarily positive. Who doesn’t like grandma? 😉
3. What are some of the biggest challenges in running a place like Vollpension?
We run Vollpension as a social business which means for us that we do not only have financial and gastronomy goals but also, and those are equally important we also have social goals to follow. Half of our team is older than 55 (average age of the grannies and grandpas working with us is 65) and live on very low pensions and/or alone. Very often this comes with challenges like depression, sickness because of older age, addiction etc. This can be tricky sometimes to include a stable gastronomy business. Communication and social work are key, everyone is unique and we give this uniqueness a special focus because we believe otherwise we could not create this homey feeling for us and our guests. If you compare this with other gastronomy businesses where, often due to the daily stress, there can be quite a harsh tone and staff is often easily replaced we have a completely different working culture that makes us unique and it’s lovely but also quite challenging.