Plenty of paczkis for Fat Tuesday

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Gavin Keener, a baker at Elmer’s County Market, glazes a tray of paczki at Elmer’s Monday. These pastries have become an important part of Fat Tuesday for many people and businesses in the area.

ESCANABA — Fat Tuesday has arrived in the Upper Peninsula, and so have paczki. These deep-fried pastries, which originated in Poland and are richer and heavier than standard donuts, have become an important part of Fat Tuesday for many people and businesses in the area.

Elmer’s County Market General Manager Rod Stende said that, thanks largely to these treats, Fat Tuesday is a busy day at his store.

“It draws a lot of traffic,” he said.

According to Bakery Manager Art Ziebell, Elmer’s has been offering paczki for more than 20 years. Ziebell started making these pastries after he saw a billboard in the area advertising them.

“That’s where it all began,” he said.

At Elmer’s, paczki sales have increased each year since their introduction. For 2018, the store is expecting to sell more than 5,000 of the pastries.

“We make as many as we physically can make,” Stende said.

This demand is boosted by the fact that Elmer’s only sells paczki on Fat Tuesday.

“We are traditionalists — we do make them one day out of the year,” Ziebell said.

This year, 12 flavors of paczki are being offered at Elmer’s. Ziebell said some of these flavors are more popular than others.

“It’s a fight between the custard and the raspberry,” he said of the store’s best-selling paczki flavors.

While paczki are often covered with powdered sugar, Ziebell said glazed paczki have proven to be far more successful at Elmer’s.

“It got to the point where it was literally 10 to one — maybe 20 to one,” he said of the sales of glazed and powdered sugar-covered paczki, respectively.

Because of this, almost all of the paczki sold at Elmer’s are now the glazed variety. “Unless they’re ordered, we glaze most of them,” Ziebell said. This year, the store made about 660 pounds of glaze from scratch for their paczki.

It takes more effort to glaze paczki than to dust them with powdered sugar, Ziebell said. However, this extra work pays off each year.

“It’s our signature — it’s what we do,” Ziebell said.

Stende thanked the employees at his store’s bakery department for the work they put into getting ready for Fat Tuesday.

“They put in a lot of hours and a lot of hard work, but it’s all worth it when we sell all the paczki they make,” he said.

Paczki are also an extremely strong seller at the Donut Connection in Escanaba, where — as is the case for Elmer’s — they are offered exclusively on Fat Tuesday. Terri Skradski, who has owned this store for 40 years, said Fat Tuesday is the Donut Connection’s busiest day of the year because of this.

As of Monday morning, paczki pre-order numbers at the Donut Connection were higher than their pre-order numbers at the same point in 2017. Skradski noted paczki sales last year already broke records at her store.

“I’m hoping (2018’s) going to be even bigger and better,” she said.

The Donut Connection offers both glazed and powdered sugar-covered paczki.

“The glazed ones are more popular than the powdered sugar ones,” Skradski said. The store’s most popular paczki fillings include jelly and Boston cream.

Skradski thanked the people working at the Donut Connection for their dedication. Current Donut Connection employees and people who worked there in the past help out at the store for Fat Tuesday each year.

“There’s no way I could pull it off without them,” Skradski said.