Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood has recently gotten a little sweeter with the opening of a second location for one of the city’s most famous sweet shops (cukrárna), a few weeks ago.
Dating back to the First Czechoslovak Republic and equally known for the high quality of its wide assortment of cakes, confections and functionalist-style interior, Erhartova Cukrárna is brightening things up on Vinohradská street in an inviting curved corner space in between Jiřího z Poděbrad and Flora.
“We had customers coming from all over Prague [to our original location in Letná], so we decided to go closer to them,” Robert Buchner, co-owner of Erhartova, told Czech Position. “When thinking of locations, Vinohrady was our first choice; it’s a similar place to the Letnálocation: it’s residential, it has shops.
Erhartova’s original location on Milady Horákové street near Letná park dates back to 1937 when Mr. Erhart (“a famous Prague confectioner; he was half German, half Czech” says Buchner) opened the cukrárna under his name in a functionalist building designed by Eugen Rosenberg — a student of Josef Gočár— and also the designer of the cukrárna.
“[Actually] we usually say it started in 1937, but it really started before,” says Buchner. “There was a café there before that, around 1930. There’s only one picture left. That’s how we know it existed.”
Mr. Erhart’s café was there until the early 1950s. As with everyone at the time, his shop was eventually taken from him by the communists. However, the space continued to be used as cukrárna. “What’s interesting is that [the space] was always a sweets shop, even throughout communist times,” Buchner says. “Maybe the quality wasn’t always as good, but it was always a sweets shop, so the interior was kept.”
As a result, many elements of the original interior were preserved and could be incorporated into the design when the space was taken over by Buchner and his partner around 2005. Buchner, a former economist, who was working in the building found out about an open tender for the best business plan for the space. After making the decision that he would participate, he found a partner — Pavel Procházka — who had several years experience in the food services industry (a good match, as Buchner had none).
After winning the tender, Buchner and Procházka set out to reconstruct the space — along with architects Tomáš Hořava and Enigma studio and with the support of Prague 7 (the owners of the building; Buchner and Procházka are renters) — in its original First Republic, functionalist-style.
“The space was sort of abandoned but all the important pieces and details in the interior could be renovated,” says Buchner. “They are protected, with their own registration numbers, as national cultural heritage.”
Opened since 2007, Erhartova Cukrárna at Letná is done in a creamy ivory and dark green and features original tables and red chairs as well as several original glass display cases including a tube-shaped case in the shops center that holds wines. Some of its most characteristic features include a large window within the interior that provides a view into the corridor of the building and a telephone booth. “There’s a special something about the space that makes it cozy,” says Buchner.
With the same unassuming, but refined simplicity the interior of the new location in Vinohrady also features a functionalist-style. “We decided to make the interior similar to the Letná [shop], says Buchner. To do so, he and Procházka went through several books featuring images of interiors and cafes done in the functionalist style. “There are no pictures on the walls, only mirrors; [the style] is simple,” says Buchner. “Not everyone likes it, but we hope that most people will appreciate it.” ‘There’s a special something about the space that makes it cozy.’
What guests will most certainly appreciate is what kept Praguers traveling across the river before the new locations recent opening: Erhartova’s sweets. Cakes, cookies, pastries, small confections — Erhartova’s wide variety and insistence on using the best ingredients makes their offerings stand out. “We have such a mixture, from Italian sweets to traditional Czech ones. We try to look around and find interesting recipes,” says Buchner. “We especially like recipes from grandmas.”
Three of their most popular offerings are lanýžový dort or Chocolate truffle cake and two traditional Czech sweets: laskonka — a confection similar in appearance to a French macaroon with two cookies, made from a light egg white and coconut mixture, sandwiching a caramel and butter cream filling and větrník — also two cookie halves sandwiching a caramel or vanilla cream and topped with a fondant.
Erhartova’s wedding cakes and birthday cakes are their specialty. “Our baker, who has been with us from the beginning, is really talented. He is always ensuring the quality.” Contributing to that quality, Buchner notes a few of the sources for their ingredients: “Raw chocolate from Belgium, honey from Moravia and cream from Italy.”
Buchner said at the beginning it was tough going. “For the first couple of years, we had to educate the customers because what we offered was different than what they were familiar with,” he says. “It was different from what they could get on the market then. There were just around ten types of sweets; it was always the same.”
Buchner notes that during the communist era, although there were few products, the quality wasn’t so bad. Today, he remarks, the quality has gone down. “Everyone wants to make their products at a cheaper cost. So, instead of using butter they use vegetable oil,” he says. “So we go a different way. We think this is the way.”
Their way has definitely been working for them and, at the time of my interview, it appeared to be working at the new location already as the tables were full and there was a long line formed at the counter. “We haven’t advertised much,” says Buchner. “People start to talk about it. They say they have seen it [the new location], so it starts slowly. It’s similar to our way of thinking. It takes time.” Buchner notes that perhaps they can bring something new to the area. “I can see around that there are not many places like this — a city café. I hope it’s the beginning of a new era for this street.”