WASHINGTON — Every state is represented in the nation’s capital, but most Texan transplants argue their home state’s interests are seriously lacking in D.C. — only, their complaint has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with pastry.
But this frustration will soon come to an end when D.C. residents Chris Svetlik and Brian Stanford launch Republic Kolache Co. and start serving their kolaches to the masses.
“Any Texan will tell you how they miss things like Tex-Mex and how you can’t find good Tex-Mex here, and kolaches are up there as well,” says Svetlik, a 27-year-old Texas native. “Kolache means something to everyone in Texas.”
For Texans, kolaches are as common as doughnuts — a ubiquitous breakfast or snack food found in most bakeries and convenience stores. The stuffed dough came to the Lone Star State by way of Czech immigrants in the 19th century.
And while many Czech families continue to make kolaches the traditional way — with fruit filling — the pasty has gone through a bit of an evolution in the South. Now, it’s common to see kolaches stuffed with meats, cheeses, potatoes and more.
“Basically a lot of things you would find in a breakfast taco in Austin have made their way to into these savory kolaches as well,” Svetlik says.
In addition to taking on new flavors, kolaches have taken to new regions as well. Over the years they’ve grown from being staples in rural Czech communities to a popular street food in Texas cities.
In fact, Bon Appetit magazine’s Adam Rapoport recently named kolache a new “it” food for 2015. (Svetlik and Stanford are happy to point out that kolache was designated a trend after they announced plans for their business in Washington City Paper’s Young and Hungry section.)
“It’s almost similar to what barbecue has done in the last couple of decades in Texas,” Svetlik says. “The best barbecue and the best kolaches for a long time were found out in the country in these tiny little country bakeries, and then it’s really caught on in the cities more recently. You’ll have people who don’t have the cultural connection — their Czech grandmothers didn’t make kolache — but still, it’s an amazing food and it caught on in the cities.”
Yet, however mainstream kolaches are in Texas, they’re difficult to find in D.C. And when Svetlik and Stanford were introduced via mutual friends in the District, the two bonded over their nostalgia for the hometown comfort food.
Then, there came a point when they stopped reminiscing and decided to do something about it: They decided to bring kolaches to D.C.
Svetlik’s dad, who grew up in what Svetlik calls a “typical Czech-immigrant family,” is the keeper of the family’s kolache recipe. And for the past year, Svetlik and Stanford have been working with that recipe to make a few different varieties of their own.
“We’ve tinkered and refined it. I think we are trying to take an approach where we have a solid basis with the authentic old style of doing Texas kolaches, but we’re also experimenting. We are here on the East Coast and we’re seeing what we can do that does provide an East Coast spin on things,” Svetlik says.
The duo is working on a D.C.-specific kolache with a half-smoke, cheddar and jalapeno. Stanford explains that a beef-based sausage kolache is a common variety in Texas, so this is their nod to the District.
“We thought it would be a great way to marry up those two culinary ideas of the kolache,” says Stanford, 34. “It’s basically a fancy pig in a blanket.”
They are also experimenting with a breakfast kolache (think of chorizo, egg and cheese, and ham, egg and cheese), and a few different types of seasonal fruit kolaches, such as blueberries and cream cheese and pear.
“We’ve thrown away a lot,” says Stanford in regard to all of the recipe testing. “As scientific as you can get about it, it’s just recording results and saying, ‘OK — this worked; this didn’t work; this could work better; perhaps if we tried this or that.’ And again, it took the better part of the year doing that before we said, ‘OK. We have something that passes our very high standards of what it should be and what it should taste like.’”
With a recipe that meets their standards, Svetlik and Stanford are gearing up to launch; they intend to start selling kolaches at pop-ups and a few local farmers markets.
For both Svetlik and Stanford, Republic Kolache Co. is a side project (Svetlik runs his own design and technology studio; Stanford is an attorney for the federal government), but Svetlik says they’re up for seeing where the business takes them.
“We don’t have it here, and it’s just a thing that we’d like to see kind of take root here and just to be able to share it with people who haven’t had them before,” Stanford says.
“The two of us wanted a good, reliable source of kolache. And at the end of the day, wherever this thing goes, I know I’m going to make my dad proud, so it will be worth it,” Svetlik adds.