A lot of changes happened during the pandemic. We rented this flat here and we built, as you can see, our own studio back there where we did the online classes and the on-demand videos. We created our own baking website with grannies’ knowledge. We did a lot of merchandising with new books, recipe cards. You can order the cakes made in Vienna and we ship them to you in all of Austria and the plan is [to expand shipping to] Germany and Switzerland. Then one of the big things is, of course, the live baking. It went very well online. We’re very happy to do it now in person.
In addition to giving the pensioners some added income, what has working at Vollpension meant to them?
If you work as an elder person at the Vollpension, you have two things you can do, either you bake or you are a host, which means you say “hi” to the people, explain to them what we do here, bring them to the table and help a little bit with waitering and everything. A lot of those who do that, they’re not really into baking. When it comes to those who want to bake, they just love baking.
When we started 10 years ago, we said, “Well, we want to create a place where generations work together and you get good cakes.” We hadn’t thought about people not getting a high-enough pension and being lonely. That’s also something that just came up and now, we have our focus on that. So everything we do is to create jobs for elderly people, to give them a voice with everything we do. If the press is here, if we do interviews, if they’re on Euronews, if they’re online, if they’re in front of the camera, it gives them empowerment and they do things they would never otherwise do in their life.
Then we have a book with the recipes, but it’s not only recipes. It’s also the people with their stories and their pictures. You have something in your hand you can show and you can give your kids or your grandchildren.
Some of the elder employees at Vollpension bake the goods, while others greet customers as hosts of the cafes.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Our idea is we don’t want to be a coffee house that has one place and it’s in the fourth district in Vienna. If we could choose, we’d say every corner in the world needs a Vollpension because the need, it’s everywhere. Not because we want to get rich because we’ll never get rich because we’re a social business, so everything we earn goes back into it. What stands always on top is to create jobs for elderly people. You have now the opportunity to come to the studio and do live baking with the grandmas, or you can come to a classic coffee house, or you take a class online, or you buy a book. It’s multidimensional.
What is great about being part of Convening EMEA is that we can be on the center stage and tell our story — and we have a lot to tell. That’s pretty cool. We want to give the people who attend a little Vollpension experience, so we’ll make a small coffee house with our old furniture and where you can get a little bit of the Vollpension’s atmosphere.
What has been the biggest surprise for you working on this project over the last 10 years?
That I’m still sitting here with almost 100 employees and I don’t know how many thousand sold coffees and cakes and stories exchanged. Of course, at the end of the month, we have to pay our bills. For my part, I don’t want to calculate what I earned over the last 10 years money-wise. I earned so much more in emotions and sweets and the love I got from the grandmas who told me, “Wow, thank you very much for bringing me here and being in front of the television,” or whatever. Being rich is not about money, it’s also about the work environment and what you get back.
My other question would be, how do you stay thin?
I always just try samples.
I love what you’re doing. There’s such a need for this, not just in Vienna, but in other parts of the world — certainly in the United States.
Where are you exactly in the States?
I’m outside of New York City.
Well, then, let’s just open up Vollpension in New York City.
Times Square — here we come! World domination. That’ll be our conversation when I see you in September.
The original Vollpension opened in June 2015 in the 4th District in Vienna, Austria.
More Than Money
Vollpension’s David Haller said what the pensioners who work in the kitchen and at the café get out of it is much more than a paycheck.
“What is really, really important for all of them is that they have meaning in their life,” he said. “And work does something for you. You get a feeling of ‘I’m needed.’ Of course, money is important because some have very, very low pensions, but it’s really about having fixed points in your week where you can say, ‘I’m there on Tuesday and on Friday and around that, I can build my normal schedule.’
“Then of course, there’s the aspect of getting to know new people, especially younger people, which helps because a lot of them only talk to persons who are their own age and you talk about your health and what bugs you and everything. With the young people, it’s a completely new approach. The learning curve, it’s not the young only learn from the elder people, it’s also the elderly learn from the young.
“I always say the Vollpension is a place where there’s friction, but we want that friction. We want it to be authentic and real, and that’s what happens. Sometimes when it’s completely packed on weekends, people scream and people do whatever, but at the end, we all stick together. We don’t want to create the perfect world. That’s not what it is. Sometimes it’s a real mess.
“But it’s fun and at the end of the day, when they go home and then they lie in bed, they’re completely exhausted, but they have the feeling, okay, I did something together with others and it’s for a good cause.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.