It'd be a lie to say we can't leave the Kistücsök-Baricska Csárda-Karolina Fűszerkertje axis behind: last time we visited Vonyarcvashegy, we were curious how the owner of a larger beach buffet saw the past season. Where better to ask than at the Casanova: the place is widely known among holidayers thanks to the water stage, the jet ski and their popular pizza. We learned that due to the fact that this was the 2nd rainiest summer of the last 110 years, the foreigners even paid for cancelling reservations, and the autumn sill belongs to pensioners.
Pancakes, pizza, lángos, hamburger, French fries - it is the same every year, but everyone has at least one favourite Balaton buffet, where they can pop by wearing wet swimming clothes or chat with friends well into the night with a glass of spritzer in hand. The Casanova in Vonyarcvashegy is known to all who spend their holiday nearby. Father, brother and son have been running the buffet for 26 years - it would be only a slight overstatement that a whole generation of Austrians and Hungarians were brought up on their dishes. They have outgrown the originally modest parlour and now they look after three buffets, a pizza and a gyros counter, a roof terrace and a water stage.
WLB: What was this high season like?
Zoltán Molnár: This year's bad weather and low turnout were unparalleled in the last 26 years. Due to the rainy weather, both the foreign and the Hungarian guests stayed away. Many reported that guests from abroad transferred the cancellation fee with reference to the bad weather and did not even show up. In short: we closed an unprecedented bad season. The knowledge that this was the 2nd rainiest summer of the last 110 years is a bit of a consolation.
WLB: You mentioned that you've been experimenting with autumn opening for the third year. How long can you extend the season; are people game for the calm, autumn Balaton?
Z.M.: September has always been about Hungarian and Austrian pensioners. They don't like the buzz. They like having enough room on the beach and the lack of queues. In recent years, we had no problem with staying open at the beginning of September. The second half of the month, however, is practically non-existent, irrespective of weather. For a few years now, the local government have thrown in the carp festival, but it hasn't quite grown out yet. Unfortunately, even the autumn festivals fail to move enough people.
WLB: What was on the menu when you bought the buffet 26 years ago - and in what ways has it changed since?
Z.M.: 26 years ago only the basics were on offer. We didn't sell a' la carte back then; true, there was neither demand for them. Black pudding, sausage and lángos (fried dough) were trending. Then demands evolved, especially when French fries came rocketing in. For years, guests only ordered fries. Then, with the kitchen upgrades, our options also expanded. Now you can choose from over 200 dishes. Foreign guests are still automatically looking for lángos, goulash and stuffed bell peppers.
WLB: I've noticed that most people drop by Casanova for the pizza. Do you have a secret recipe?
Z.M.: Our pizza dough and sauce recipes are from Italy. My dad and his brother learned the secret in Italy, they paid a lot for it as well. True, we have modified the recipe of both the dough and the sauce throughout the years, as the original flavours were somewhat alien to Hungarian guests. We needed a spicier sauce and a thicker and more savoury dough.
WLB: In the high season, you are almost non-stop in the buffet. What kind of lifestyle does that require?
Z.M.: Unfortunately, summer lasts for a maximum of 4 months. The real rush from this is about 50 days. Throughout the rest of the year, the family focuses on the all-year-round joints, but these don't require as much attention as the seasonal buffet. For us, winter is about recreation.
WLB: What weight did the constant personal attention (the both you and your dad walk up to and chat with guests) pull in the success of Casanova and in the retaining of customers?
Z.M.: It played and still plays an important role. We are known all around, they know what we have achieved. It takes a personal connection with guests, conversations on less busy days, and young people we got to know at the water stage events. They spread the name of our kitchen and our parties. Now you can rent an electric jet ski and an electric boat at our pier, which isn't too widespread at Lake Balaton, so it also gets mention. I try to connect with the younger generations, while my dad and his brother do the same with the elders. It's something you must never stop doing.