Nikki Laski, daughter of Monarch Cakes’ 85-year-old owner Gideon Markham, has spent the past few months sifting through the store’s old recipe books and photos. Laski and the team at the family-run St Kilda institution are working on celebrations for the cake shop’s 90th anniversary this year. Later this year, Laski and the team plan to bring back recipes from Monarch’s past that have fallen off the menu.

But the bakery’s recipes and spirit always stays true to its 1934 origins. Monarch’s famous kooglhoupf (a sweet ring-shaped cake-like bread with dark chocolate and almond meal swirled through pastry) and Polish baked cheesecakes – made using a recipe that’s over 100 years old – have connected Melbourne with Eastern Europe, and helped keep a migrant community’s culture alive through food for years.

The charming cake shop was founded by Pearl Levine, a Polish and Jewish migrant who operated a bakery in Poland for years before arriving in Australia. In 1931 she opened her first bakery, Monaco Cake Shop, in Carlton. Three years later she moved the shop to St Kilda to cater to Eastern European Jewish migrants in the area, and rebranded as Monarch Cakes.

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Levine kept the business in the family, baking the same recipes she brought over from Poland decades earlier, until her death. It's now owned by Markham, a Polish Holocaust survivor who migrated to Australia in 1963, bought the shop from then owners Joe and Judy Chaberman, in 1996.

Monarch is one of the few remaining continuities for the many Australian families who have roots in a generation of Eastern European migrants and refugees. Though the family background behind Monarch is Polish, many Eastern Europeans find connection in baked goods.

“When you have cakes which really bring back memories for so many different ethnic groups, it’s an honour to be part of,” says Laski. “For many people, they can’t get these anywhere. It’s something their grandmother made when they were a child.”

The cake shop has also been part of celebrations for generations of Melburnians. “I did a wedding cake for a girl two or three years ago, and she said that we had made her grandparents’ wedding cake,” Laski recalls.

Even while looking back over 90 years this year, the team is still thinking about the future. “We’re here for the long haul,” says Laski.