Paczki Day brings big business to Crystal Lake bakery

CRYSTAL LAKE – In 1997, Country Donuts sold 35 dozen paczkis.

It was the first year the Crystal Lake bakery began selling the Polish treat, which is traditionally offered on Fat Tuesday and meant to use up all the sugar, eggs, fruit and lard in the house as their consumption is forbidden for Catholics during Lent.

"We thought [35 dozen] was a good and profitable thing to do," said Larry Swanson, co-owner of Country Donuts. "The next year we sold 100 dozen. The next year we sold 200 dozen. And it's just gotten bigger and bigger every year."

This year, Country Donuts will sell 2,000 dozen paczkis, and if you waited until Tuesday to make your order, you were probably out of luck.

"[Tuesday] we're only accommodating pre-orders," Swanson said. "We're sold out for our entire production all day long."

The paczkis have become so popular that five years ago Swanson started selling the pastries on Monday, and last year the doughnut shop even made them through Wednesday. Country Donuts has had bakers working 24 hours a day since Friday to accommodate the increased orders.

More than 900 people came into the bakery Monday, and another 1,000 are expected on Tuesday, which has provided a big boost to business during an otherwise slow month.

"It's a nice thing to have coming out of the winter doldrums," co-owner Scott Offord said. "Generally after Christmas our business is pretty flat for about three months. Traditionally bakeries are unprofitable during those first three months of the year. We like this extra boost."

Country Donuts' recipe is richer than how paczkis are traditionally made, which may be one reason why they are so popular at the Crystal Lake bakery, Offord said. They use extra butter, sugar and eggs, cooked in a soy bean oil, and filled with a combination of homemade butter cream and a fruit or custard filling.

A traditional Polish paczki would have just a fruit or apricot filling, Offord said.

"We'll do a week's worth of business in two days," he said. "Needless to say, we're making payroll this week."

Patty Miemczewski, an activity director at the Springs at Crystal Lake, bought two dozen paczkis Tuesday for the senior citizens at the rehab center. She purchases the paczkis every year and knew to put in he order last week.

"They love them. It's a tradition," she said. "[The paczkis] have a pop to them. They're more doughy."

The paczkis have been such a success that Country Donuts is again taking orders into Wednesday this year, and in the future the bakery may begin selling the treats the weekend leading up to Fat Tuesday.

And Swanson credits paczkis for making Country Donuts a household favorite across McHenry County.

"If we get 1,000 people in here today, probably 700 of them are new people who haven't ever been here," Swanson said. "Our reputation is expanding. We get people from Hebron. We get people from Marengo. We get people from Hampshire. It isn't just the people in town here who know us."

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