One loves the dolce vita, another prefers something more hearty… The temptations on offer at K.u.K Hofzuckerbäcker Gerstner, the former imperial confectioner, are legendary and I took a look at the WIEN PRODUCTS city map to find its exact address. A few days later, I meet Mag. Ursula André, Head of Marketing, at Palais Todesco, opposite the Vienna State Opera house, where Gerstner has its home on three floors and treats guests from around the world to its culinary delicacies.
After entering the shop, you will already succumb to the display on show in the glass cases, in which cakes, strudels, chocolates, and petit four are neatly arranged. Right next to this, ice cream aficionados will experience the agony of choice…
Some Japanese tourists stand in front of a display case packed with souvenirs looking for gifts to bring home to their families.
The elevator takes us to the third floor, where the Salons Privéé, which have been run by Gerstner since 2016, are located.
The high rooms radiate majestic opulence – double doors open to reveal entire suites of rooms that are heritage-protected and require great care and attention. There is a Blue, Green and Red Salon – a bar, beautifully decorated tables and comfortable chairs placed around coffeehouse tables. The walls are adorned with genuine pieces of art – in a nutshell – you feel sublime and the noise of the world stays shut outside. The large windows let you enjoy the great view of the opera house.
Speaking of the opera… The Wiener Staatsoper and Gerstner have always had a very successful, long-term business relationship. It was clear that the imperial guests of the opera will be catered by Gerstner even before the opera was actually opened. The company founders, Anton Gerstner and his wife Barbara, managed to make their way through the ranks to become purveyors to the imperial court within a relatively short period of time and were basically the first to introduce the idea of catering in Vienna while supplying the imperial pavilions at the World Exhibition in 1873. Last year, the company celebrated its 170th anniversary and although it is no longer owned by the Gerstner family, it is in good hands, as the proprietor has placed the business on solid ground. The company provides catering for the State Opera and the Musikverein, among others, and runs hotels in addition to being an imperial confectioner.
However, I am interested in the art of confectionary, and how the patisserie makes all its fancy creations. This is why I am allowed to take a look at the finishing touches for some cake creations. The famous Klimt Torte is very popular and the confectioner is highly focused and works swiftly. Every movement is perfect. The large baking room, the chocolate making and catering are located in the 2nd District, where there is more space available to work. The sweet creations are only decorated and finished at Palais Todesco. “Skilled craftsmanship is still an important part of our work,“ explains Ursula André – “we place great weight on skilled craftsmanship and are very glad to employ such masters of their trade.”
Where do the customers come from, I want to know. “From all over the world,” is the answer. Proof of this is swift once we stand in the shop on the ground floor – it is extremely busy. Locals have their pieces of cakes packed for their afternoon tea, some tourists have taken a liking to the chocolates and a small group of people has gathered around the gelato booth outside – it is summer and people are enjoying their cool refreshments at Gerstner.
The staff are friendly, help customers with advice in several languages and wrap everything very quickly in beautiful packaging adorned with the company logo.
“Every day is pretty busy here,” Mrs. André tells me – “we often have business lunches or events in our salons during the week.” The café restaurant on the first floor is quite full – people value the good cuisine of the young, ambitious chef, who not only offers classic Viennese dishes on the menu, but also modern cuisine. Of course, there are also the many guests who drink their coffee while enjoying the view of the Opera House and have the agony of choice at the sweet buffets.
There are also many guests who come for dinner or a glass of Schlumberger champagne after they have been to the Opera – the company has very good contacts to the Viennese producer of excellent sparkling wines.
What started in 1847 as a confectioner is a modern business today, where tradition and the modern complement each other perfectly. Hospitality is the priority, the location provides many opportunities for events and the quality is undisputed.
Have I already seen the garden, Ursula André asks me as we are back at the entrance. A garden? Here, right in the city center? We leave the shop and turn into a grand drive next to it. The noise from the busy Kärtnerstrasse gets fainter with each step and we arrive at a beautifully quiet courtyard with comfortable furniture inviting us to take a seat. It is pleasantly quiet and shady here – perfect for a relaxing break.
Once I said goodbye and am back in the Kärntnerstrasse I know: this place and the quality of K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäckerei Gerstner are most definitely worth a walk.