ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Riesbeck's Markets' annual Paczki Ball went on as scheduled despite blustery, snowy weather, and the crowd, as big as ever, purchased lots of paczki and other Polish fare.
In fact, on that one afternoon, the Saturday before Lent, customers at the flagship store here bought more than 500 eight-count boxes of the super-rich, made-from-scratch Polish pastries, officials told SN.
Dodgy driving conditions, with sleet and snow blanketing the whole area, didn't put a damper on the hoopla. Customers literally danced in the aisles to live polka music provided by a local group, The Polkaholics. This, the third year for the in-store, pre-Lenten celebration, drew as many people as last year.
“In fact, we had chairs for 100 this time, and there were at least 15 to 20 people standing,” said John Chickery, bakery director at the 15-unit chain.
“Others stopped by to see what was going on,” he said. “Our customers look so forward to this, and we had some new people this year, too. One woman said she had driven an hour and 10 minutes — in that weather — from Weirton, W.Va., to get here and she stayed the whole time. She had seen our ad in the local newspaper.”
The ad listed paczki-related events at the chain's various stores and included a captivating history of paczki, which had its origins in Poland. Legend has it that long ago in households in Poland, women would try to use up all baking ingredients before Lent began, thus eliminating occasion for temptation during the Lenten fasting period. That's how the paczki was born.
Chickery estimated that 85% of the participants at the Paczki Ball could trace their family origins back to Poland.
“This is a definite social gathering,” he said. “They have a lot of fun. And the longer they stay, the better for our total store sales.”
Carl Richardson, aka “Mr. Paczki,” and his wife, Cindy, were guests of honor at the Riesbeck's event. Richardson, former bakery executive at Michigan chain Farmer Jack, and at Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., formed the National Paczki Promotion Board in conjunction with the Retailer's Bakery Association several years ago, encouraging retailers to liven up their bakery sales in the dead of winter with the tempting paczki.