Hamtramck’s New Palace Bakery Spreads Pączki Love Nationwide
At the crack of dawn on Fat Tuesday, Joseph Campau Avenue in Hamtramck, Michigan has all the sights and sounds of a big-box electronic store preparing to release a new smart phone or video game console on Black Friday.
“So, we open at 3 a.m. that day, and we usually have customers line up around midnight,” said Suzy Ognanovich, whose family has owned New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck for close to 50 years.
The prize at the end of that line each year is paczki. The Polish deep-fried doughnuts filled with jelly are traditionally known as “pączek.”
These annually long lines in the bitter cold are not due to scarcity. At New Palace Bakery – coined “Pączki Headquarters” – pączki is available year-round.
Michiganders just enjoy getting into the holiday spirit.
“Some will come with their fold-out chairs, and they’ll wait,” Ognanovich said. “And they enjoy doing it, they have fun with it.”
Rooted in Catholicism, pączki was born centuries ago in Poland. These plump pastries were a happy accident of sorts, created as a way for Polish households to use up all their eggs, sugar, butter and lard before Lent, when Catholics abstained from sweets and fasted for 40 days.
“They would make everything and indulge before those six weeks or so until Easter,” Ognanovich said. “All the ingredients had to be used so they didn’t spoil.”
New Palace boasts about 30 flavors of pączek that are always available. But the bakery usually rolls out the red carpet for a new flavor each Pączki Day.
This year marks a special Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck – as if they aren’t all special to the Michigan city with deep Polish roots. Hamtramck is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2022, and to commemorate it, New Palace has introduced the “centennial brew” flavor.
“It’s a coffee-flavored buttercream flavor,” Ognanovich said. “So that’s our new flavor, it’s in our specialty box this year.”
Raspberry is the bakery’s most popular pączki flavor, according to Oganangich, whose personal favorite is custard. Also beloved for its Chruściki (angel wings), Kolaczki cookies and butter cookies, New Palace Bakery lore isn’t just contained to Michigan.
Any time a post promoting Pączki Day hits the bakery’s Facebook page, accompanied by a mouthwatering photo, the comment section inevitably bursts with customers asking the bakery if it ships to “X” state.
Sherry Preisz is a card-carrying member of New Palace’s loyal out-of-town fanbase.
A former Fraser, Michigan resident, Preisz, her husband and her kids have pinged around the country the last five years and now reside in Delaware County, Ohio. No matter what state the Preisz family has called home since 2017, Sherry said they’ve made it a tradition to travel back to Michigan for their precious New Palace pączki.
“They’re just the best,” Preisz said. “You know they have, I call them ‘knockoffs’ at Meijer and Kroger, but it’s like, at New Palace they’re homemade, fresh. The flavor is out of this world. We love the lemon and the custard. Those are our favorites.”
Preisz said her family visits other family members in Michigan every year, multiple times a year. They always center their winter excursion around Fat Tuesday, a ritual Preisz said will continue in 2022.
On occasion after a Michigan visit, Preisz said she’s shared the sugary wealth with other family down south, where pączki is pretty much nonexistent.
“We do bring back extra, and we share with neighbors and friends, and we’ve taken them back to Tennessee, too,” Preisz said. “Which is a long drive, it’s about 12 hours.”
The shipping demand is not lost on Ognanovich, who said she and her staff are humbled when they read comments on their website or Facebook page posted by nostalgia-starved former Michigan residents.
“Sometimes when people submit an order, they’ll leave a note and say things like, ‘Oh my dad worked in Hamtramck or we grew up in Hamtramck,’ so I always like reading those to see how they tie back to Hamtramck,” she said, “A lot of people in a lot of places seem like they still want to be part of the tradition, but they may not be able to get them where they live at the current time. They just want a little bit of a taste of home.”
The end of the holiday season marks the beginning of the madness as it pertains to Fat Tuesday preparation, Ognanovich said. She has no idea how much pączki her bakery produces in that window, but she knows firsthand how much work goes into making the season a success.
“Afterwards, it feels really good, kind of like when plan for a party at home,” Ognanovich said. “Leading up to that you’re thinking about what you have to buy for your ingredients, then you have to make it. Then you serve it, and then when everybody leaves at the end of the day, you’re happy and you enjoy the day. Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but in the end, as long as everything works out well, that’s the main thing.”
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