It all started with a dream. Not a hope or a wish or a goal, but an actual dream.
Like most dreams, Wolcott’s Shannon Ziomek doesn’t remember much about it. She doesn’t even know who was sitting across the table from her, but she knows they were talking pierogies. “They said, ‘You need to make Buffalo chicken, and your hardest critic is going to be your husband. And if you can win him over, you will be just fine.’ ” The next day Ziomek asked her husband Shaun if she could make him Buffalo chicken pierogies. The connoisseur of traditional Polish cuisine opined, “That sounds absolutely disgusting.”
Luckily for both parties the pierogies were, in fact, not disgusting, and actually quite good — heavenly, in fact. Holy Pierogies was born.
Rewind back to Christmastime 2010. Shannon wanted to join in on her father-in-law’s tradition of preparing the doughy dumplings for holiday meals. Self-described as “as Irish as they come,” Ziomek (née Brady) remembers a lot of arguing during her first crack at cooking one of Poland’s national dishes. No hard feelings, though; Stash Ziomek Sr. has been an integral part of the operation from the start.
Shannon and Stash were ready for round 2 at Easter the following year. But it was a Fourth of July picnic that brought about her first opportunity to get feedback on a larger scale. She made traditional potato and cheese pierogies that drew rave reviews. Shannon had the aforementioned dream a few weeks later and determined she wanted this to be her new career. An Irish woman made a Polish dish on America’s birthday, and a Connecticut company was born. Holy Pierogies officially opened for business in November 2011 and her product was in stores in early 2012.
The initial stages took place in the basement kitchen with not much more than a small mixing bowl. All the pierogies were hand-made and the flavors ranged from peanut butter and chocolate to pepperoni and cheese. The dough is made with a church recipe that can be traced back to Shaun’s grandmother. But the spiritual connection doesn’t end there. From the company name to its slogan (“They Taste Heavenly”) to its logo (there’s a halo over the “P”), Ziomek’s Catholic-school background is evident in all facets of the business. Community involvement and fundraisers are a big part of Holy Pierogies’ mission — St. Matthew’s School in Forestville sold 840 dozen at a recent event.
Whoever coined the proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” probably wasn’t thinking about pierogies, but it applies here. One of Ziomek’s two sons is autistic, and she didn’t see a way she could properly care for him while also working a full-time job. Being able to run a profitable business out of her home has enabled Ziomek to both provide her son with the attention he needs and cover the costly expenses for special services.
Success and ambition, with some government regulations mixed in, forced the operation out of the basement, but not off the Ziomeks’ property. They converted their one-car garage into a commercial kitchen and Shaun, Stash and Shannon’s mother, Kathy Brady, all took on bigger roles.
But a successful family business can have its drawbacks. In the case of Holy Pierogies, the production of specialty flavors has been pushed to the back burner in order to keep up with the public demand for what’s most popular.
The non-traditional flavors you’ll always be able to find are loaded baked potato, Buffalo chicken and garlic mashed potato. Still, Shannon says “the specialties are the best. I do a steak and cheese where I make my own cheese sauce. I do the pepperoni and cheese, the apple cinnamon, but I have to do those by hand.” Similar to the way local breweries have can releases (in which a limited amount of hard-to-find beer is available for purchase) Ziomek will post on the company’s Facebook page when certain specialty flavors are ready to hit the stores. She says the busy season is November through Easter, so summertime is your best bet if you’re in the mood for blueberry, strawberry cream or chocolate-covered cherry pierogies.
A majority of the markets and IGAs that carry Holy Pierogies are in central Connecticut, but stores as far north as Enfield and as far south as Milford have jumped on board. (Check the website for a list of stores.) They’re even on the menu at the Derby beer garden The Hops Company. Despite steady growth within Connecticut, Ziomek — who is an accountant by trade with an MBA — has a bigger dream. And for this dream, she’s very much awake. “I want these to go national.”