Heather Horak just had to throw out a batch of kolaches in her tiny storefront kitchen in Church Hill. The jalapeño cheddar was spilling over the top and the buns themselves slouched to the side, looking as if they’d given up on the whole process.
But Horak hasn’t given up on them. The South of the James Farmers Market is the next day, and she plans to turn around and make yet another batch to take with her. She’ll also bring chorizo and sweet potato, sausage and gravy, and a kolache with maple-cream cheese and candied bacon — plus a few other varieties, just as surprising.
But we should probably dial things back a moment, shouldn’t we? What’s a kolache, again?
It isn’t a Southern thing — although they’re very popular in Texas. And that’s not precisely considered the South, because Texas is, well, Texas. It has its own thing going on. Horak, who also works full-time as a physical therapist, grew up in San Antonio eating her mother’s homemade kolaches — little buns with sweet or savory things that Polish immigrants brought to the United States.
“They were an inexpensive food for her to make,” Horak says. “You stuff everything in one little pocket, and she could throw them at us as we went out the door.”
When Horak moved to Richmond, she started looking for kolaches. “At every food festival I thought, ‘Surely there’s kolaches here,’” she says. But the only place she could find them was at a Polish festival in Dinwiddie County. She bought six dozen and froze them.
It got her thinking, too. The Supporting East End Entrepreneur Development program, or SEED, was about to offer grants to help small businesses get off the ground, and Horak decided to go for it. She’d never written a business proposal and had three days to figure it out and get it on paper. She hadn’t even worked in the food industry before.
“I thought about it and realized it was everything Church Hill needs,” Horak says. She noticed a lot of single parents in the neighborhood, and because kolaches are inexpensive, she says, price wouldn’t be a barrier.
Although she won the grant last year, she has yet to see the promised funds. Horak has persisted nonetheless. While working her day job as a physical therapist, she takes Fridays off to bake her goods for the farmers market the next day. And since she moved into the spot on North 29th Street, neighbors have been clamoring for her to open up full time.
“People have been knocking on the door every time I’m in here,” she says. Horak decided to experiment and opened her store, Craft Kolache, on Labor Day. Despite the holiday and Hurricane Hermine, she sold out in 45 minutes. The plan now is to open on weekends, starting in November.
“I really want to create a sense of community,” Horak says. “I want to try something I’ve never done before. And I want to — this is so hokey — I want to spread real kindness: I want to be able to open these doors and welcome everybody in this neighborhood.” facebook.com/kolache.rva.