Toronto Neighbourhood Walks & Talks: Authentic Austrian Cooking and a European Coffee House Atmosphere at Konditor

After a few years in Vienna, that Austrian city became too small. The big wide world was calling – Burgi wanted to go to America. But she was unable to obtain a green card and a friend suggested she should go to Canada. Burgi was actually recruited by the Royal York Hotel in Toronto as they were attempting to increase their profile with high end desserts. Burgi was game, and in 1987 she arrived on Canadian soil. I myself had arrived here in 1986, so we realized that both of us have about 20 years of Canadian living under our belt.

Burgi’s first impressions were that the country was so big, the city was huge (in comparison to Greater Toronto’s 5.3 million people, Vienna, by far Austria’s largest city, only has about 1.5 million residents). Just like me, this Austrian transplant fell in love with Toronto. She felt that the people were friendly, and within half a year she had found a Canadian who was so friendly that she decided to marry him. Over the next few years Burgi and her husband started a family in Toronto.

After the Royal York Burgi also spent several years as pastry chef at the prestigious Badminton & Racquet Club until Benedetta came up to her and said she was wasting her talent and should pursue her life-long dream: to open her own coffee-house. Burgi liked the idea, quit her job, and Burgi and Benedetta ended up becoming business partners. The big breakthrough came when Ben was listening to a radio show where Kerry Stratton, conductor at the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra, commented that he was unable to locate a decent Sacher Torte (a real Viennese specialty) in Toronto.

Austrian treats

Benedetta said to Burgi “your Sacher Torte is awesome” and they sent a sample to the conductor. The sweet delicacy went over really well, and Burgi was invited to provide the sweet table for the prestigious Viennese Ball organized by the Toronto Philharmonia. Other highlights in Burgi’s career include an appearance on the popular “Christine Cushing Live” cooking television show, work for the Italian consulate, as well as the annual Salute to Vienna Concert at Roy Thompson Hall. People were definitely taking note of this gifted Austrian pastry chef.

Today Konditor and the partnership between Burgi and Benedetta is well established. While Burgi prepares sinful treats in the kitchen, Benedetta handles the customers in the front. Ben is definitely a character; she has a great natural sense of humour, and doesn’t shy away from ribbing customers in a good-natured way. While I was there, a regular customer came in and Ben told him off for hanging out too much at Starbucks, her competition. The patron came right back with a quick-witted answer and a little humorous banter was flying back and forth.

These articles prove this café has received some attention…

Not surprisingly, Benedetta’s background is in sales, she spent many years in the headhunting business, saying that she “sold heads for cash”, prior to starting a business with Burgi. Although the last three years have been a ton of work, both entrepreneurs agree that their foray into business ownership has been very rewarding.

Their recipe for success consists of providing an authentic Austrian coffee house atmosphere, with high quality meals and desserts. In addition to delicious merchandise, they strive to create an environment that makes people feel comfortable, just as if they were at home. Benedetta has a knack for engaging people in conversation, and patrons chat freely with one another. Ben, an avid poet, said she is keeping track of all the goings on at her establishment, and one day she’ll write a book about it where she is going to dish out the goods and share the juicy tidbits that she has witnessed in her café. I joked that I better behave myself so as to prevent any compromising news from leaking out.

Poetry in action every month at Konditor

Ben adds that Burgi’s desserts are second to none, and they taste even better than they look. And people who have traveled to Austria confirm that this place looks like an authentic Austrian pastry shop. As an Austrian myself I can attest to that. For Mozart’s 250th birthday celebrations last winter Burgi made a special three tier cake which was enjoyed by a crowd of 200 patrons. The attendees were fortunate that it was one of the warmest days in January with temperatures around +10 degrees Celsius. Patrons were able to hang out on the patio outside.

I inquired as to whether there were any special events at the restaurant. A recent initiative at Konditor consists of regular poetry readings called “Poetic Justice”, held every first Thursday of the month. One or two poets present their writings, and audience members have a chance to read their own work at the open mike.

A mouth-watering strawberry Cremeschnitte represented an enjoyable highlight to the end of our conversation; I figured I couldn’t leave this place without at least trying one of the sweet treats. Finally I had made it to Konditor, this little Austrian nook that reminded me so much of where I grew up, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be back (using Arnold’s famous words), not just for the food, but for the company.

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