PARMA, Ohio - It may seem like a scene from the hit TV sit-com, "Cheers," from years ago. Although the theme is the same, a place where everybody knows your name, it is not a bar, but a bakery.
Eugene Polatajko and her daughter, Lidia Tempe, know most of the customers by name when the bell rings, noting another customer has walked through the door. They are brought in by the sweet smells of baked products that are prepared by a group of women working in the kitchen of Rudy's Strudel and Bakery, 5580 Ridge Road, Parma
The Ridge Road bakery, which specializes in pierogies, those Eastern European delicacies made of dough and filled with sauerkraut, spinach, and fruits, has been a mainstay in Parma for generations. Polatajko bought the business 35 years ago.
"I couldn't speak English and I had no money," she said, recalling the days shortly after she moved to the United States. Born in Ukraine, Eugenia and her family later moved to Poland before coming to the U.S.
"However, now I'm teaching classes and I do have money," Polatajko said in perfect English though it bears traces of an accent denoting her Eastern European heritage. Catching herself on her comment about money, she quickly added, "Well, I have a little money."
What Polatajko has is passion to keep Rudy's operating as a popular bakery filled with Eastern European treats. Along with the pierogies are kolachkis, which are fruit-filled, strudel, cakes, and pies.
"People around here wouldn't have it any other way," she beamed as she deftly folded circles of dough in half on their way to becoming pierogies ready to be boiled in water.
She spoke as she led her group of kitchen workers in an assembly line of pastries. For her, it has been a profitable 35 years. However, in the early days of business, Polatajko, who was widowed, went into business with her young daughter.
"My bed was behind the oven, so it was very warm and cozy for me on cold Cleveland winter days," Tempe said.
"I didn't want someone else to raise my child," Polatajko said.
Once the daughter was old enough, her mother had her counting out dozens of pastry items that were bound for restaurants.
"By the time I reached preschool, I was well-versed in my numbers and dozens," Tempe said.
On many days, Tempe's children are now in the bakery. They have not yet learned the business, but they already know what tastes good.
Some customers have called Polatajko the "pierogie queen" because of her success with the small treats. However, pierogies were not always on her bakery's menu. She said while she cooked pierogies on the back burner of the bakery stove, thinking they would be good later in the evening or dinner, a customer came through the door and saw her meal in preparation.
"He came to pick up some strudel and he said, 'What's she making?' I said, 'That's pierogie,'" Polatajko said. "He said, 'Can I order 10 dozen for tomorrow?'"
With that, Polatajko moved quickly into the pierogie business. She has been so successful that her shop has been the subject of many articles in newspapers and magazines. She has become a familiar face on local television, especially during Lent and Easter season when her meatless pierogie sales skyrocket.
Everything in Rudy's Strudel and Bakery is made by hand with no shortcuts. Aside from the flour, sugar, butter, and other kitchen ingredients that go into each treat, regardless of what it is, something else is spooned into every food. Though it cannot be seen the naked eye, it is a special spice that livens every food. It is love.
Polatajko said everything is prepared with as much love as it the food was bound for her own table.
"That's part of the deal," Polatajko said as she reached for another tray of pierogies.