Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PIEROGI SERIES: Pierogi at the Fair – Millie’s Pierogi Delivers!

Milie's Pierogi - Anna Lopuk ("Millie")

Part of a continuing series on Pierogi

Pierogi at the Fair
Millie’s Pierogi Delivers!

by Staś Kmieć (reprinted from Polish American Journal - August 2009)

It was a balmy August Saturday last year when I had the urge to visit the Dutchess County Fair in upstate New York. I had been there a few years prior and had the delight to see Millie’s Pierogi prominently displayed among the many food vendors and country fair offerings. I coaxed my friend Lee to venture out with me and along the way we were stuck for a lengthy time in the fair traffic. Was the fuss to get there worth it? Would Millie be there again or would it be a day of fried dough and farm animal prize winners?

Just beyond the entrance gates and around the corner I saw the rotating signature red-and-white sign with Poland’s crowned eagle. Millie was there! With an appetite, I went over to the counter manned by red and white capped and shirted attendants, and made my order of three samplings: farmer’s cheese, kapusta/cabbage and prune. Each one with a different dough consistency due to the filling; each one delicious!

My Uncle John in Sparta, NJ initially told me about Millie’s Pierogi, which he ordered so he could keep a proper supply in the freezer at all times.

I had experienced many a pieróg at fairs, but never had they tasted like Millie’s. This was the real thing - delicate dough with delightful, tasty fillings! Part of the secret of Millie's pierogi is that they are entirely hand-pinched; this enables thinner dough, unlike machine-made products. Upon my return past the booth, I ordered another round, but this time a double order and an addition of potato and cheese with kiełbasa bits to the mix.

I asked if “Millie” was there and I was introduced to a cheerful woman. I would later find out that this was the matriarch Anna (Tauscher) Lopuk. Everyone seems to claim to “Millie” at the booth, even the men.

There was a Millie originally, but she owned a different establishment. She sold it when her son died, and there were a couple of owners before the Lopuks bought it in 1976. Daughter Ann was in college and when her parents told her of their purchase she couldn’t understand the logic, since the joint was known more for pizza than pierogi. Her father, Walter Lopuk said, "because it can't go anywhere but up!"

The first year was a real struggle for the couple. Anna said that “it was lots of long days and nights and hard work,” but that determination and willingness to commit the time and energy paid off. Today, Millie’s more than quadrupled the number of stores that they deliver to – the size of the physical plant, and has initiated a successful mail order and concession aspect to the business. Their visits to festivals and fairs allow them to meet the public and put a personal face to the brand name.

So where did this family recipe derive from? Walter Lopuk was no stranger to homemade pierogi. His mother came from Poland, and his father from Russia. Living in the predominantly Polish area of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, even the German-born Anna knew all about pierogi, or so she thought.

Trying to impress her new Polish mother-in-law, she attempted to make pierogi for her husband, and ended up in tears, with a mess all over the kitchen. "I'm never going to try to make another pieróg,” she told him. Little did she know?

Anna fully understands the frustration of mail order customers who try to replicate their cherished family recipe. She considers it an honor to have their brand be considered close enough to a relative's to stand in its place.

As a married couple, the Lopuks had a background in the food industry, having run two 24-hour diners for 25 years. After Urban Renewal swept through downtown Chicopee Falls they turned toward a pierogi business.

At the beginning, Millie's consisted of a small restaurant, and a delivery truck held together with baling wire and prayers. They delivered to about 50 local supermarkets, employing a few pinchers, a couple of waitresses, and a driver. It was a family affair with Dad doing the cooking in the diner, Mom – the bookwork, brother Gary handling the deliveries and the preparation of the cabbage filling, and daughter Ann – waitressing, delivering, and pinching pierogi.

With patience and perseverance, growth came steadily as they expanded into the farther reaches of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and then parts of Rhode Island, swelling the number of stores serviced to over 200. They purchased a concession trailer and made the rounds to the local fairs. They have now crossed the ethnic barrier, as people of all nationalities have been introduced to and enjoy pierogi.

Family members have departed and there have been new additions such as Ann’s “Polish working” Irish husband.

What are Millie’s (I mean Anna’s) favorite pierogi? Farmer's cheese with a little sugar sprinkled on top.

Their upcoming busy schedule consists of The Dutchess County Fair, Aug. 25-30, (Rhinebeck, NY); and The Big E, Sept 18 - Oct. 4 (West Springfield MA).

Visit the Millie’s concession stand, sample the delicious pierogi, and say hello to “Millie!”

For orders and additional information: http://www.milliespierogi.com/.