It’s funny how one Polish delicacy can lead to another.
I became a fan of Holy Pierogies after doing a story on the Wolcott company in 2017. When they announced on their Facebook page in April that they were now being stocked at V. Czapiga & Son in Meriden, my wife stopped by one evening on her way home from work. She approached the door and saw they were closed for the night, but owner Walt Paluszewski emerged, invited her in and pointed her in the direction of the pierogies.
Upon seeing the “cash or check” sign, she worried aloud if she had enough dough for the dumplings. Paluszewski said not to worry, she could mail a check when she got home. She was able to scrounge up enough crinkled dollars to cover the cost and paid for the pierogies. Paluszewski then asked his wife, Patti Shara, if they had some kielbasa samples they could send home with their newest customer. This kind of service is how companies survive for 100 years. That and making some absolutely killer kielbasa.
Ten years ago this month, Walt and Patti bought the business from Ray Czapiga, the grandson of Valentine Czapiga, a Polish immigrant who opened the original market in 1918. For Paluszewski, it all began with a conversation over steamed cheeseburgers at another Meriden institution, Ted’s. Czapiga mentioned to Paluszewski that he was ready to retire and relocate to Florida. “He said, ‘Well, I’m getting ready to get out of this,’ ” Paluszewski says. “ ‘You know anybody looking to buy a kielbasa place?’ ”
It took about a year for the two parties to come to terms on a deal, which included keeping the name — “I don’t think anybody would come to buy Walt’s Kielbasa” — and recipe the same. Czapiga also stayed on for a few weeks to help with the transition. “He and his family wanted it to continue, they just didn’t want to do it,” Paluszewski says.
It doesn’t take more than one bite to recognize the difference between the mass-produced meat sticks hanging in a chain grocery store and the day-after-day dedication from a husband and wife toiling in a small, unassuming market on Cooper Street. The ratio of fat to lean, a precise blend of spices, the crisp snap of the casing — sliced up on a hard roll with sauerkraut and mustard is how you do lunch.
Czapiga’s always has deli meat and traditional Polish items like babka, sauerkraut and pierogies (with galumpkis on occasion), but the kielbasa is what has been bringing people back for generations. “It’s a 100-year-old recipe,” Shara says. “We do it old school. We have a 100-year-old stuffer.” The equipment is original, the labor is intensive, and the result is consistent. “It was great then and it’s great now.”
V. Czapiga & Son
11 Cooper St., Meriden
203-235-7119, on Facebook
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Closed Sun.