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

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

If you turn the For Sale signs in the window so their backs are to the street, no one will buy the bakery. But if you turn them around to face traffic, no one will buy paczki.

“They see ‘For Sale’ and think we’re closed,” explains Susan Radovanovic, and business is challenging enough already at Sisters Cakery in Detroit. So for Fat Tuesday, they’ll concentrate on selling paczki and worry about the other things later.

The water bill. That’s a worry. Or sore knees and aching ankles: Remember when the girls used to laugh at the babushkas who said they could predict rainstorms with their throbbing joints?

And the neighborhood. That’s different, too, two blocks west of the northern tip of Dearborn on Warren Avenue, with some storefronts empty and others with their signs in Arabic.

Hang around long enough, of course, and everything changes. Radovanovic, 67, and Kata Zlatich are the only two sisters left in the business of the four who inspired its new name, which come to think of it is 22 years old.

When their father took over Tysar’s Bakery 47 years ago, paczki were not a national or even regional phenomenon and certainly not something you would see at Meijer — which didn’t come to southeast Michigan until two years later. So that’s new, relatively.

As for the notion of selling out, it’s very recent, and still ever so strange.

“We’ve been working since we were kids,” Zlatich says. Closing on 65, she seems more welcome to retirement than her sister, though even Radovanovic concedes, “Everybody moved away.”

Including them. They live in Livonia, a few miles apart. But they remember when 15 bakeries staffed mostly by Yugoslavians supplied sweets and daily loves of bread to a clientele that was mostly Polish, and when paczki were rolled instead of stamped and had four basic ingredients — flour, eggs, butter and pride.

Which, in the right bakeries, they still do.

When everyone’s Polish

Chene Modern Bakery & Cakery, another of the three holdovers from the old days, sits three-quarters of a mile west of Sisters and across the street in the sector known as Warrendale.

The third, West Warren Bakery, is close enough to Sisters that if the employees needed to, they could walk a few steps and borrow a cup of sugar. Or a 50-pound bag.

In between are an assortment of shops like Iman’s Bakery, often offering meals as well as sweets, where proprietor Alex Badzi says, “Just Lebanese. We don’t make donuts.”

At Chene Modern, Janice Maksimovski has been behind the counter since her brother bought the business in 1980. She was chatting with Carol Piestrak of Woodhaven, who was picking up 101/2 dozen paczki.

“I think they’re not as heavy as the Hamtrack ones,” Piestrak was saying. “They go down smooth.”

There’s also less congestion at the Warrendale bakeries than in Hamtramck, she says.

Both areas have changed, Maksimovski points out, but as long as the paczki haven’t except for a few exotic fillings, “people still come.”

“On Paczki Day,” she says, “everybody’s Polish.”

What’s free time?

It’s the other days, and the long days, that inspired the For Sale signs at Sisters Cakery. But when you’ve been cutting dough for nearly half a century, it’s hard to cut the cord.

The sisters’ mother, Nada Milosevich, set an example. What’s unclear is whether it was good or bad.

“Day and night,” Radovanovic says, and the only time she complained was when she grew too ill to do it any more. Milosevich died 13 years ago, and neither she nor her husband, George, ever had the chance to live a little.

Sometimes, Radovanovic says, that seems sad. Other times, she can’t think of what she would do if she wasn’t wearing an apron.

Dig in your garden, Zlatich tells her. Buy a puppy.

She’s the more ready of the two. Show up with $219,000 and she’ll beam as she hands over the key.

First, though, there’s Fat Tuesday, the busiest day of the year, and the sisters agree:

It’s time to get to work.