A new cafe in southeast Phoenix wants to be the next go-to spot for kolaches, baked offerings made of puffed-up dough and stuffed with savory or sweet fillings.
The Kolache Cafe opened in Ahwatukee at 4302 East Ray Road in early January, serving more than a dozen variations of the treats with Czech and Texan roots.
During the second week of January (when we visited), lunchtime business was brisk at the cafe The cafe still had some breakfast items available, including sausage and gravy plus potato, egg, and cheese kolaches. Diners were ordering a number of savory items — everything from chicken, broccoli, and cheddar to pulled pork with jalapeno. There were also sweet kolaches: blueberry and raspberry cheesecake. Some customers took advantage of patio seating while the rest lined up for takeout orders. Employees advised to-go customers to warm their kolaches at home in their microwaves, setting timers to 15 to 20 seconds. It was a humming operation.
But by January 15, the cafe was closed. "Due to the popular demand, we have had to close," reads a post on Facebook. "We need to upgrade our kitchen and staff to better serve you while keeping everybody safe. We apologize for the inconvenience! We will keep you posted!"
Head baker and Valley-based Czech chef Claudette Snow says she grew up eating kolaches. Her mother was from the land formerly known as Czechoslovakia, where bakers first used prunes, poppy seed, and apricot fillings in sweet kolaches.
“I have my own children, and I'm trying to pass down that culture to them," she says. "So I stick as close as I can with the traditional way of making kolaches.”
Snow has done her research. She's tasted the real thing in the Czech Republic, where kolaches remain popular. “When I was there, I had a cheese flavor kolache," she says. "It's like farmers' cheese, a little crumbly, and it's sweetened with sugar and it has an egg yolk in there and raisins on top."
Snow's Czech roots are baked into the operation, but she also makes room for the Texas style of kolache, which is more of a hearty breakfast pastry popular throughout the Lone Star State. “A traditional Czech kolache is actually an open-faced pastry with a fruit filling that you can see,” Snow says. “And the Texans have come up with another type of kolache, which is the savory, meat-filled bun.”
Before the cafe, Snow managed a Facebook group called From Our Czech Kitchens, where more than 9,000 members share Czech recipes and food pictures. In fact, this is where The Kolache Cafe owner Jose Leal found his new baker. Leal knows more about the Texan variation, thanks to living and working in the Houston area. He says he had tested the Phoenix market to see if there was a demand for kolaches before planning the restaurant. It was here, all right — and it even extends outside the Valley.
“We've had people who are wanting to drive in from Tucson,” Leal says. “People reached out to us from Colorado and New Mexico. The number of people that are looking for this niche product, it’s pretty amazing.”
The cafe will be back open next week. It's also teaming up with Buzzed Goat Coffee, which is located in the same shopping plaza, in order to serve coffee drinks.
And in the meantime, another Phoenix cafe has kolaches on the menu as well.
HiHi Donuts in the Sunnyslope neighborhood knows all about the craving for these savory dough bombs. Manager Ricardo Garcia says his store has been offering the Texan version for the past eight years. The doughnut shop sells two savory kolaches: pork and spicy beef.
“We run out of them pretty quickly,” he says. “They’re pretty popular.”
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