Riesbeck's Paczki Ball Best Yet

Riesbeck's Food Markets' annual Paczki Ball drew particularly large crowds this year, officials said. After a day and a half of rain, sleet, snow, wind and below-normal temperatures, the weather cleared, making it possible for more people to travel to the chain's 60,000-square-foot flagship store on the Saturday before Lent. One man told me he drove here from Cleveland to bring

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Riesbeck's Food Markets' annual Paczki Ball drew particularly large crowds this year, officials said.

After a day and a half of rain, sleet, snow, wind and below-normal temperatures, the weather cleared, making it possible for more people to travel to the chain's 60,000-square-foot flagship store on the Saturday before Lent.

“One man told me he drove here from Cleveland to bring his elderly mother here for the celebration. That's a drive of more than two hours one way,” said John Chickery, bakery director at the 15-unit independent.

The man and his mother left with two dozen-count boxes of paczki (pronounced poonch-key), the super-rich Polish pastries that resemble enormous doughnuts and are traditionally eaten prior to Lent.

Under red and white banners and in the midst of signs, samples of paczki were offered all afternoon. Fifty-five chairs were set up, and they were occupied all the time, Chickery told SN.

“People came and stayed awhile and left and then others came. It went on like that from 1 o'clock to well after 4. We don't have a precise count, but just by observation, we believe we had more people than last year.”

The Polkaholics, a local group, provided live polka music, and dancing was encouraged.

All the store's perishables departments were staffed up and ready for the day, which brought heavy customer traffic. This year, the Super Bowl fell on the same weekend as the Paczki Ball.

A new paczki variety, apple, this year was added to a roster that already featured 10 kinds.

“Apple sold so well I'm sorry we hadn't added it a long time ago,” Chickery said.

Last year, the company sold 550,000 individual paczki during the winter months. Riesbeck's, unlike most retailers who make a big thing of paczki just prior to Lent, continues to sell paczki on weekends right up until the day before Easter. Based on sales this year as of Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, the retailer expects to exceed last year's sales.

Guests of honor at the Paczki Ball included Carl Richardson, aka Mr. Paczki, his wife Cindy, and Dennis Smith and his wife Mary.

Richardson, former bakery executive at Farmer Jack and Price Chopper, developed the National Paczki Promotion Board in conjunction with the Retailer's Bakery Association several years ago to encourage retailers to liven up their winter bakery sales with paczki.

Smith, president of Paper Products Co., Cincinnati, which produces the official red and white paczki boxes, has been active for years in organizing paczki events in the Cincinnati area.