Paczki season at Kiedrowski’s Simply Delicious Bakery almost makes residents forget about Valentine’s Day in mid-February.
That’s not just speaking for people in Amherst or Lorain County, either. The business attracts customers from all over Ohio and even other states each year when it’s time to begin making the sweet Polish treat.
Members of the Kiedrowski family moved quickly around the bakery Feb. 16 along with 10 other crew members in a human assembly line that owner Tim Kiedrowski says churns out around 85,000 paczkis annually.
Five varieties of the pastry are produced: plain, poppy seed, apricot, prune, and rose marmalade. That comes through a process that takes around two hours for each batch as every second is counted.
After ingredients are mixed and shaped, the large balls of dough are cut into smaller pieces before being placed in a steam box for 30 minutes. A brief dive into the deep fryer comes next followed by a sprinkle of sugar, filling for certain varieties, and finally a trip into the waiting customer’s hands.
Kiedrowski and his wife, Terri, sons, Mike and Tim, and cousin Kris Ingersoll work at the bakery, which opened in 1984.
“We first made 20 dozen in that first year,” he said. “We ended up with about a dozen and a half left over. We market it as our own season now. When you think about paczki time in northern Ohio, I’d like to think everyone is thinking about us. I’m 61, and anyone my age remembers the tradition of paczkis. That’s what we’re relying on when we advertise it and push them. The marketing of it is the memories people have as kids.”
Since demand for paczkis in the area took off around 1994, many people have asked Kiedrowski if he’s ever thought of expanding his business to other locations.
“We’ve found in our experiences of being in downtown Lorain and downtown Amherst that you can only be excellent in one spot,” he said. “It’s like a runaway stage coach. All those horses are wanting to go a different way, but you have to pull those reins in to get them to go the right way. We can only control excellence right here.”
Kiedrowski sat on the board of the Retail Bakers of America from 1989 to 1995 and said the group was less than receptive to his idea of heavily marketing paczkis when he pitched it in 1991.
“They laughed at me,” he said. “I had very long hair then. It was the coolest mullet of all. There were guys older than me who just dismissed me based on that and completely washed off the idea. Now we’re laughing all the way to the bank.”
Mike Kiedrowski said the ethnic passion that goes into the creation of packis fits perfectly into northeast Ohio’s cultural melting pot.
“Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and everyone is Polish on Paczki Day,” he said. “People drive here from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Some come and say they just wanted to see the bakery.”
In 2014, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine name Kiedrowski’s as one of its top destination bakeries in the country.
“God knows where all these people are coming from now,” said Mike. “A lot of people in Cleveland are now making paczkis. South and west of us, though, no one is.”
This past Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of Kiedrowski’s Pazki Ball, which welcomes guests with music, drinks, activities for kids, and of course, paczkis. The event was held at Lorain’s DeLuca’s Place in the Park.
“In 1998 we were trying to think of a way to promote the paczkis,” said Tim. “My wife and I were lying in bed trying to decide what to do and we remembered ice cream socials we loved in the 50s and 60s. We held our first ball at Knights of Columbus in Lorain hoping to sell 100 tickets. We ended up having to turn away the 250th person at the door.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.