ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Riesbeck's Markets is putting high hopes on paczki this year, having outdone itself last year with record sales.
With sales that soared 11% over projections, the independent sold just under half a million of the super-rich pastries that are traditionally eaten just before Lent.
“That was the largest number we've ever sold. It was 13% over the previous year,” John Chickery, the 11-unit independent's bakery director, told SN.
As usual, Riesbeck's will kick off paczki season with its annual Paczki Polka at the flagship store here, and this year's polka day will feature something new.
“For the first time, we'll be crowning a Paczki King and Queen. They'll be Riesbeck's associates, chosen for the honor by our customers. We've had ballots printed up, and are giving them to customers now.”
The Paczki Polka, always held the Saturday before Lent begins, draws large crowds. Some people drive more than an hour to attend, Chickery said. There is live music, and sampling stations are set up to give customers a taste of different flavors of paczki and some other Polish favorites.
“Last year, we had 125 chairs set up. They were all taken, and people were standing, some of them all afternoon,” Chickery said.
While many supermarket departments took a hit last year as consumers pared their budgets down to include no more than basics, Riesbeck's in-store bakeries had a banner year.
“We had a very strong fourth quarter in 2008, and that carried over into the first quarter of 2009,” Chickery said. “Bakery items are comfort food.”
Some people give up sweet treats for Lent, so an over-stuffed paczki may be their last such indulgence until after Easter.
Sales usually peak on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, but Riesbeck's has proved that the year's first taste of paczki is hard to give up and some consumers continue to buy them through Lent if they're available.
Unlike many retailers who promote paczki, Riesbeck's does not stop selling the doughnut-like treats, which originated in Poland, on Fat Tuesday. In fact, the company's in-store bakeries continue to make them and sell them during Lent, on weekends only.