CLEVELAND, Ohio - Angelo Colozza had barely turned the lights on when customers began lining up at his bakery in Parma's Polish Village Tuesday morning.
"It was 4:30 a.m., I didn't even have any staff here yet," says Colozza.
So he opened the doors and gave the people what they wanted, even if it was still dark outside.
What they wanted were paczki, the deep-fried filled Polish pre-Lenten donuts (pronounced PUNCH-ki).
After all Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday. In strongly Polish Cleveland, though, this is Paczki Day - the day when hundreds line up at Polish bakeries to have one last hurrah.
Customers at Colozza's especially wanted cannoli paczki. Colozza's 2017 flavor has become something of a local phenomenon - a light and airy paczki with rich, custardy cannoli filling and bits of chocolate It's one of 11 paczki flavors Colozza's is selling - the most popular one, says Joan Colozza.
"It's taken on a life of its own," says Angelo Colozza. " I sold them all weekend, too. We're making them as fast as we can."
Daniel and Sarah Truitt of downtown Cleveland were two of those lured to Parma by the cannoli paczki this year. "I've had cannoli and I've had paczki, but never together," said Sarah. "This is the first time we've had the day off and been able to come experience this," adds Daniel.
And what an experience. The lines were long, but moving briskly at Colozza's, which expects to sell about 16,000 paczki today.
They were even longer a few blocks away at Rudy's Strudel, aka Paczki Central, where owner Lidia Trempe expects they'll sell about 75,000 paczki today. But, oh , they fun lines. DJ C.Randolph C. was kicking out the polka jams, there was a dancing bear in a babushka and Barrell brewery was serving samples.
The Brewskie Kolsch and Cleveland Dark Ale would go perfect with a custard or vanilla cream paczki said those in line who weren't afraid to take a few sips before heading to work. The line, which snaked out the door towards Ridge Road, took about an hour to reach the counter. But Trempe kept the crowd happy with samples of kielbasa, tunes and trivia contests.
"What's the singular of paczki?" she yelled out as the bear danced. "Paczek" answered a man who called himself "Poland Joe." He won a bowling pin, and 10 percent off his bill.
Others kept busy in line by filling out their order form. Savory paczki seemed especially Tuesday morning, as did the traditional poppy seed, rose petal jam and vanilla cream. Rudy's has more than 25 flavors, ranging from traditional tastes like prune to vanilla cream, strawberry, mocha and much more.
This year Rudy's is featuring their new Parma-Que paczki. Made in collaboration with Rudy's Polish Village neighbors, Barabicu Smokehouse, the Parma-Que has hand-smoked brisket in the savory paczki.
Kim Glazer, and daughter, Nikki, both of Strongsville made their annual pre-work stop to Rudy's. "I work with 10 people and I'm getting four boxes," laughed Nikki Glazer. Kim, who grew up eating paczki with her Polish family, said the potato-cheese were her favorite.
"It's definitely worth the wait," added Joe Ficzner of Parma, who also stopped by on his way to work. "Who doesn't like paczki?"
Eugenia Polatajko, Trempe's mother, who bought the 70 year-old bakery 37 years ago, said she can hardly believe how much the holiday has taken off in Cleveland. "When I first started, we would sell maybe 20 or 30 dozen paczki," she says. "This is amazing!"
Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter, who planned to make the rounds to all the Parma bakeries selling paczki on Tuesday, agrees.
"Paczki Day has evolved into a major event for Parma in the last five years or so. It's really put us on the map in Ohio as the Paczki Capital, with our numerous bakeries and the great variety of paczki we can offer. We're happy to have all the out of town visitors this day brings to our city."
Colozza's is at 5880 Ridge Road, Parma.
Rudy's Strudel is at 5580 Ridge Road. The party will keep going all day at Rudy's. DJ Kishka will be on site spinning until noon. Dyngus Day Cleveland will be searching for the next Ms. Dyngus to be entered at this year's Dyngus Day, and Rudy's will also be hosting polka dance instructors, brewers from both the Brick and Barrel and Platform, the pit-masters from Barabicu and other local vendors.
Both will be serving paczki until they run out today.
Still haven't gotten your paczki? See our 2017 Cleveland Paczki Guide to dozen bakeries selling the sweet treats.
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