From deli meats and pastries to walls full of cuckoo clocks, Edelweiss Village offers foods and goods from across Europe

It’s 9:20 a.m. on a chilly Calgary spring morning, 10 minutes before Edelweiss Village opens for the day. Traffic reports warned of longer than average commutes on main roadways, yet there are three other drivers idling their cars in the parking lot waiting for the doors to unlock. Yes, the cabbage rolls here are that good.

Our patience is rewarded when we walk inside. The bakery case is brimming with fresh European pastries and cakes and the Kaffee Stube is bustling with cooks preparing sauerkraut, potato salad and the ever-popular Frikadelle, a German meat patty, for lunch. As my eyes glaze over with choices (do I go for the doughy custard-filled Berliner or indulge my inner-child and choose the fun swan-shaped cream puff?), I try to eavesdrop on the staff, using my very limited Polish vocabulary to pick up a word or two.

With little success, I decide to distract my sweet tooth for a moment by browsing the adjoining meat counter, as it’s here that Edelweiss Village began its journey 32 years ago as a European deli.

Bought by founders Renate and Herbert Schuster in 1982, Village Mall Deli, as it was then called, was located in the northwest’s Brentwood Village Mall. Catering to Calgary’s European families, the deli imported meats and became a place where one could get a taste of home. With devoted customers, the business quickly grew to add an attached Kaffee Stube (translation: coffee shop) featuring homemade German cuisine.

In 1994, the Schuster’s daughter Marianne, and her husband Stan Kundert, took over the deli and Stube, adding a gift shop and importing housewares and goods from across Europe. In 1995, the business became Edelweiss Imports Ltd. and in 2000, their current location was built at the intersection of 19 Street and 20 Avenue NW, resembling a quintessential European chalet.

“We’re diverse and I think that’s what makes us work,” says Marianne.

Marianne and Stan Kundert of Edelweiss Village. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

Edelweiss’ diversity doesn’t just apply to its food and goods (which range from napkins to decadently tall, house made black forest cakes to packaged German soup mixes); it now also applies to the many nationalities that work there.

“We have a diverse staff. We used to be just more or less German and I remember hiring my first Dutch staff member,” Marianne laughs. “That brought more Dutch clientele in and now we have staff members who are from all over Europe.”

Four full-time cooks, three full-time bakers and additional staff make all Kaffe Stube’s food from scratch. They bring their own ideas and influences to Renate’s original recipes, contributing to Edelweiss’ ability to provide a wide-range of European cooking.

“Everything is done by hand. The amount of potatoes they go through, the amount of potatoes they peel — we don’t bring in a pre-peeled potato. It’s a lot of work and our staff is very versatile,” says Marianne.

One of the most popular specialty dishes is the Maultaschen, a traditional German dish from the region of Swabia, similar to a Polish perogy or Italian ravioli. It’s filled with meat, spinach, breadcrumbs and onions, and flavoured with herbs and spices such as marjoram and nutmeg.

“We’ll have customers ask when we’re making it because we only make it every five or six weeks,” says Marianne. “So we call the customer and say, ‘today’s the day!’ or ‘you need to order it!’ because they go so fast.”

A selection of pastries from Edelweiss Village. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

To ensure the food is authentic, Edelweiss has established a relationship with a local Hutterite colony to provide fresh produce, while working with a German company to import spices as well as medicinal teas.

A large part of Edelweiss’ business today deals with importing European goods and the distribution of them across Canada. Their import business started with the hard-to-find German teas and grew to everything from cuckoo clocks to tablecloths. Even the deli’s meats come from a variety of suppliers and butchers, including some from Poland, Germany, Hungary and Austria.

The Kunderts travel to Europe at least twice a year to attend food and giftware shows, and establish relationships with exporters that supply the goods their customers have come to know and dependon.

“We have customers that have been long-term,” says Marianne. “We have 30-year customers.”

However, Edelweiss is constantly attracting new customers, many of them new immigrants from Europe looking for a taste of home. Renate, 80, who immigrated to Canada in 1954, still works at the main till most days, relating to immigrant’s questions and concerns.

It’s this personal touch, good ingredients, and attention to detail that have led Edelweiss to over three decades of success and a booming import business.

Edelweiss Village is located at 1921 20 Ave. NW, 403-282-6600, edelweissimports.com

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

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