Sandwich Select at Trzesniewski

Trzesniewski, in the very heart of Vienna, caters to the hungry on the run and on a budget, but who still want charm

Services | Mina Nacheva | May 2011

The line of people is moving quickly, and what seemed to be at least a 10-minute wait a moment ago has almost miraculously vanished into thin air.

"Bitte schön," the voice of a friendly waitress welcomes me from behind the glass counter, making the choice among the 21 different varieties of finger sandwiches even harder.

Egg and egg, tuna and egg, spicy egg, salami, herring, lobster, and of course salami. The list goes on. My eyes wander along the rows of delicious combinations, unable to decide on the most appealing ones, while the queue of newly arrived customers threatens to swallow me.

The variety of spreads is striking.

"Egg and egg and tomato," I spit out in a hurry, realizing that I have gone for the two choices that sound most familiar to me. Familiar thus safe – I almost blame myself for my decision. I am about to clear the way.

"Etwas zum Trinken," the woman asks. Perhaps, but I can feel the impatience of the line behind me breathing down my neck, so I shake my head without even thinking the question over, and move away. The jostling customers quickly take over the spot where I have stood less than a second ago.

It’s hectic, but after all – it’s Trzesniewski.

A buffet in the very heart of Vienna, right around the corner from the Graben and sitting on the well-hidden Dorotheergasse, it is a place for everyone to enjoy – from schoolgirls of no more than 11, to the office worker in suit and tie, and the elegant elderly lady in purple coat and feathered hat. Trzesniewski is a venue with its own charm preserved for more than a century. And yes, let’s face it: It is also a kind of a tongue-twister. Which makes a kind of sense, as it goes by the motto "unaussprechlich gut" – unspeakably good.

Treznevski, Tschresnievski, Tsczevs… I had tried practicing once, twice, three times even but very much in vain. "Tschesnjewski," Sabine Weiß of the chain’s management department tells me as I take a seat with my plate of tomatoes, and egg and egg. "The R is silent." I almost got this right, I think, and make a quick mental note of the correct pronunciation.

In 1902, Franciszek Trzesniewski, a Polish gourmand and cook from Krakow, opened a fast food buffet on Tiefer Graben in the first district, but soon moved to the Dorotheergasse. Soon after, he came up with the idea of cutting the sandwiches – his specialty – into small portions that everyone could afford. After his death in 1939, his daughter Maria took charge.

"Trzesniewski has always been a family business," Weiß explains, "but the family who runs it today is not the same that opened it."

The Demmers, of Tee House fame, took over the business in the late 1970s and have maintained it ever since. Andrew Demmer, in charge of the production, is the only person who knows all the recipes.

"Of course, the employees know a lot as well," Weiß adds, "but not everything. The full text of the recipes is kept secret – in a safety vault." It’s the best way to preserve the buffet’s uniqueness over time, it seems.

At Trzesniewski, everyone can find what she’s looking for, Weiß carries on. Half the spreads at the buffet are vegetarian, allowing people to choose their personal favorites going afoul of their eating habits.

"I have never seen a person walk into our buffet and leave without buying anything," Weiß says. "There is a little of everything for everyone."

And there is a little bit of everyone.

At the table in the very corner, a group of three people – apparently Swedish – are sharing a full plate of the two-bite sandwiches, each of them drinking from an intimidatingly huge pint of beer.

"Foreigners," Weiß notes without even listening to their conversation, and further explains as a response to my confusion: "One can tell by the size of their beer."

It turns out true Viennese wouldn’t order a big pint of beer to go with their Trzesniewski-style sandwich. Instead, they would have a Pfiff, an 1/8 of a liter.

"Most people would rather order two or three Pfiff’s than a big pint of beer."

As some people line up to receive their food and pay the cashier, others walk back to the far end of the counter for their drinks. Now I understand why the line dissolves so quickly.

The little space that the buffet in the Dorotheergasse takes up is full of people in a hurry. The hectic pace is unavoidable, but perhaps it should not be avoided, either. People queue up, find themselves a free spot, eat, drink and free the space for the next ones who will come.

"Most of our customers are just happy to find a seat," Weiß tells me gesturing toward a woman in the far corner. She has pulled up a chair and set her plate, with what seems to be egg and egg and smoked ham and egg, on her lap.

It is a popular place, or at least the Stammhaus is, as Weiß would call the very first branch of chain. "This is where one can find the real flair of Trzesniewski."

Currently, there are nine branches in Vienna, eight of which run by the Demmer family and the ninth, located at the airport, is a franchise.

"Whenever we open a new branch or renew any of the already existing ones, we combine modern and old," Weiß continues, "but at the same time, we try to make the changes as unrecognizable as possible. The last thing we want to do is alter the atmosphere."

And this is good. The modern-day fast food chain might be right around the corner, strikingly plain and identical with the one in the neighboring district. It is, however, relieving to still have a place that has preserved its character over the decades and strives to continue.


1., Dorotheergasse 1

3., Rochusmarkt, Stand 8-9

6., Mariahilferstr. 95

13., Lainzer Str. 1 / Altgasse

15., Westbahnhof

18., Währinger Str.  108

21., Shopping Center Nord, Top 12

(01) 493 13 32, or see website for individual branch tel.

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