ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Riesbeck's Markets added extra punch to its annual Paczki Polka Ball this year with the coronation of a King and Queen of Paczki.
Two associates, chosen by customer-cast ballots, were honored at the celebration Saturday before Fat Tuesday at the 11-unit independent's flagship store here.
“The customer response was great,” said John Chickery, Riesbeck's bakery director. “In two short weeks, we had well over 300 ballots cast.”
Stephen Bossell, part-time produce associate, who also works front-end carryout, and Diana Michelli, a longtime meat department associate, were chosen by the store's customers as those associates best representing the culture of Riesbeck's Markets, which champions friendliness and excellent customer service.
Carl Richardson, veteran of the supermarket bakery industry and driver of the paczki craze from particular regions of the country to nationwide recognition, was at the celebration with his wife, Cindy. Other well-recognized paczki promoters, such as Dennis Smith, president of Cincinnati-based Paper Products Co., was there with his wife, Mary. And Mary Ann Acree, secretary of the Greater Cincinnati Retail Bakers Association, attended this year with her granddaughter.
As in the past, more than 100 people showed up for the Paczki Polka Ball and stayed for most of the afternoon. They listened to live music played by the Polkaholics, tasted samples of paczki and other Polish treats, and occasionally took to the “dance floor.”
Richardson, aka Mr. Paczki, officiated at the King and Queen's coronation ceremony.
That so many people came out in the extreme cold here, and drove miles on snow-banked roads to this annual event was exciting, Chickery told SN. But what was amazing even to him, he said, was the fact that in this part of recession-torn Ohio, Riesbeck's entire chain is right now racking up record paczki sales.
As of Feb. 14, sales of the overstuffed, doughnut-like pastries — which trace their origins to Poland — had soared 12.34% above the same period last year.
That's way above Chickery's projections.
“I had predicted a modest increase of 2.75%, and in January, I was a little worried about that. I wasn't sure we'd make it,” Chickery told SN.
He bases much of the year-to-date increases, ironically, on the continuing cold, snowy weather.
“Our fresh, homemade doughnuts go up in sales when it's cold and snowy. With the weather this year and the economic situation, people want comfort,” Chickery said.
He said, too, that a new Riesbeck's television commercial for paczki that starts out with rollicking polka music has to get some credit for boosting sales.
Based on sales so far, Chickery said he expects to break his 2009 record when sales hit $276,276.84.