Bakeries jam-packed for Paczki Day

Holly Fournier, The Detroit News

Hamtramck — Strawberry, prune, buttercream...or peanut butter and jelly? 

Those are just some of your Paczki Day choices as Metro Detroiters descend on Hamtramck and surrounding communities on Tuesday to stock up on the deep-fried, sugary, glazed, fruit-filled, doughnut-like desserts.

People wait for their paczki orders at New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck.

Feeling brave? That peanut butter and jelly option joins peanut butter chocolate as this year's two new specialties offered at New Palace Bakery on Joseph Campau.

Jessica Short joined the line outside New Palace around 4:30 a.m. to secretly continue a Fat Tuesday tradition.

"My grandfather used to come down (to Hamtramck for Paczki Day) but now he's older and can't," said Short, 30. "I'm going to surprise him. He doesn't even know I'm down here."

Short, of Bloomfield Hills said she is going to take her haul to her 83-year-old grandfather in Clarkston.

Short's grandparents were born in Poland and immigrated to Hamtramck, she said.

"This was tradition," Short said. "As a kid, we would wake up and go to grandma and grandpa's, and they would have paczki. I never realized what he went through to get them."

A few paczki also were destined for the overnight mail to Short's mother in Charlevoix.

"Hopefully, I have at least one left for myself," she said.

Customers stand at the front door of New Palace Bakery, waiting to enter and buy their paczki.

Ashley Robinson, 25, stood bundled in a blanket, under an umbrella outside New Palace Tuesday morning.

The drizzle was no match for the Lenox Township's love for paczki.

 "Nope," she said. "You just gotta have paczki."

 Robinson arrived around 4 a.m. with Mikayla McLeod, 17, and Kim McLeod, 48, of Chesterfield Township.

"The line was all the way down the block," Kim McLeod said.

McLeod said she has trekked to Hamtramck bakeries "all my life, really," for Paczki Day treats. Her favorite is raspberry.

 Her group made it into the bakery shortly after 7 a.m. The four-hour wait prompted them to reconsider their original plans.

 "We were going to buy two dozen," McLeod said. "But now I think we're going to buy three dozen."

Eager customers stood packed inside New Palace, where Polish polka played and the air smelled like sugar. The line snaked through the tiny room to a counter, while off to the side, those with pre-orders picked up their treats.

New Palace Bakery employee Elizabeth Cotora, 19, of Washington Township retrieves boxes of paczki from overhead to fill customers' orders.

Holding the operation together was Suzy Ognanovich, whose family owns the bakery.

"We opened at 3 a.m. and we had a line out the door," Ognanovich said. The line first formed around 1 a.m., she added.

Paczki have been a boon for business since her family bought the bakery in the early 1970s, Ognanovich said. (Paczki is plural. The singular is paczek.)

"But, I think it's getting bigger each year," she said. 

Paczki Day originated in Poland but drifted to Detroit with immigrants early in the last century. It's celebrated here on Fat Tuesday, one day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, which is a 40-day period leading up to Easter when many Christians give up indulgences.

Rubin: Classic paczki — and a classic bakery — for sale

Preparing for Ash Wednesday, Polish families traditionally emptied their pantries of temptations such as sugar and butter, baking the ingredients into a doughnut-type dessert they named paczki.

Back in Poland, Paczki Day is observed on the Thursday before Lent, giving revelers more time to indulge.

Down the street from New Palace, rival bakery New Martha Washington stayed open through the night to serve Tuesday's early birds.

Crowds have been steady since 5 a.m. Monday, said Sunca Bakic, whose father has owned the bakery since 1973.

"I'm exhausted, but it's fun. Thank God it's once a year," Bakic said, as friends and family scurried around her in the bakery's back room.

Bakic was hesitant to estimate how many paczki had been sold, but pegged it somewhere in the thousands.

"My mind's not even going there," she said. "Otherwise, I'd really be tired."

Michael Mitreski, of Shelby Township drops paczki into the fryer as the crew continues filling orders at New Martha Washington Bakery in Hamtramck.

As Bakic spoke, an employee methodically filled paczki after paczki with Bavarian cream, while others tossed dough into deep fryers. Nearby, Bakic's husband placed balls of dough under a skylight to rise.

They had been baking paczki for roughly 30 hours nonstop as customers continuously filled the shop, according to Mike Bakic.

"Usually when it becomes 1 or 2 a.m. Tuesday, it dies out," he said. "This year, it did not."

Among the mid-morning crowd Tuesday was Charles Szukaitis, 35. He joined the line at 6 a.m. and made it into the bakery about two hours later.

The Dearborn resident said he has participated in Paczki Day every year since childhood.

"I used to come with my grandma all the time," he said. "This year, I figured I'd come home and have breakfast waiting for my parents."Szukaitis then glanced at the clock and at the massive crowd in front of him.

"Now, they'll have dinner waiting."

Earlier, Szukaitis got creative in an attempt to bypass the line in front of him.

"We just called (the bakery) but they wouldn't let us place an order," he said. "They told us we had to wait in line."

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