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Granowska’s: My Overdue Farewell

Christmas Eve 1996. I’m six-years old living in High Park, Toronto with my nine-year old sister and my mother in a tiny run-down apartment.

Like many children, Christmas was my favorite time of the year. Besides Santa, snowmen, sledge bells, and singing, it was a time when my mother, with the little money she had pooled for the year, made our kitchen become a steady production line of handmade pierogi, spiced borsht, Olivier salad (salatka jarzynowa), cabbage roles, wild mushroom sauce covered meats, and most importantly to six-year old me, desserts.

With an apartment glowing with Christmas tree light, and resonating with Polish carols, not only did my mother make sure that everything she cooked and baked was to absolute perfection, but she also remained vigilante; keeping a watchful eye for any dirty and mischievous little hands that might be tempted to snatch a bite from her cakes before the guests arrived for Christmas day dinner.

Heartbroken as only a six year-old boy could be about having to wait until Christmas to eat all the delicious goodies, my mother would sate my monstrous sweet tooth with what I can recall as my first Polish treat; pączki from Granowska’s.

Granowska's Bakery (Image Joey deVilla)

Granowska’s Bakery opened its doors at Roncesvalles and Fern on Thursday, June 13th, 1972. Named after a family bakery back in Poland, the mother/daughter duo of Elizabeth and Maria (later Elizabeth and her daughter Kathy Klodas), began a family business that for forty years would provide the city with very palatable Polish pastries, like rurka z kremem, sernik, pączki, and makowiec, to name a few.

A staple of the Polish-Canadian community, Granowska’s, in addition to having such famous customers as Pope John Paul II, would come to provide the so-called ‘official cake’ of the annual Roncesvalles Polish Festival; a festival that continues even today (taking place this year, on Sept. 14-16, 2012).

Unfortunately, facing the rising costs of high quality ingredients and seeking retirement, the owner of Granowska’s closed its doors on December 31st 2011.

As odd as it might sound, I feel that Granowska’s played a small but important role in my life for the simple fact that Polish food has always been the most significant cultural connection I have to my heritage.

Overall, I possess few of the cultural signifiers that would identify me as Polish. I’m not a practicing Catholic (I’m not even a believer), I don’t have many Polish friends, and most embarrassingly, I lack the ability to communicate in Polish.

If anything, my Polish is rudimentary at best, and rather telling, the vast majority of my vocabulary is food-related. The only time I’m remotely confident to converse in Polish is when ordering at Café Polonaise (a Toronto Polish restaurant) or simply telling my Babcia or Ciocia how delicious their cooking is.

Although the food itself is good and will hopefully be something that I can one day pass on, what I’ve come to appreciate in terms of learned Polish cultural values is what the food entails on a more macro level.

Preparing Bake Goods at Granowska's Bakery (Photo from their Picasa account)

Be it the pride one takes in preparing the food, the communal activity of each family member contributing to its construction, or the simple act of a shared home-cooked meal, the end result is a sense of closeness that Poles can extend to any family member, friend, or stranger.

All of these small interactions that are confined to the kitchen and dinner table instills an important lesson. It teaches the value of spending time with one’s family and with those we love. No entertainment is needed. All that is required is good food and a person sitting next to you.

Granted, the tradition of a communal meal and the values associated with it is a shared global phenomenon, but regardless of my biased upbringing, I truly believe that Poles have a unique way of making people feel welcome around the dinner table.

And while I may never truly learn the language, and might never truly feel completely ‘Polish’, what I am confident in passing on is a deep appreciation for the joys of a shared family meal, and the sense that at the end of the breakfast, lunch, or dinner, those we have fed walk away with something more than just a full stomach.

Today, what is left of the brink-and-mortared remains of Granowska’s is a rather featureless Chinese flower and fruit corner store, and that genuinely saddens me. As melodramatic as this seems, its closing means that a part of what helped me feel Polish in Canada no longer exists.

If there is one beacon of hope it resides in the rumour that Kathy Klodas, after writing a family cookbook, is considering taking Granowska’s online, or even reopening it at another location. But until that unlikely day comes I must believe this to be my final farewell to a little corner bakery that brought some joy into my childhood.

 

~ Jake Marchel

NOTE: A special ‘thank you’ and credit to Mary Luz Mejia, from Toronto Life, whose article entitled “Roncesvalles staple Granowska’s Bakery to serve its last paczki at the end of the month” is my primary source for Granowksa’s history.

About J. Marchel

Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Jake is currently a University of Alberta law student. His interest in Polish subject matter includes exploring and preserving his family’s heritage while also promoting his favourite parts of Poland’s cultural and historical significance.

13 Responses to “Granowska’s: My Overdue Farewell”

  1. Manney mannchopski August 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm # Reply

    I must say, great written article untill the end. Why does a chinese little shop sadden you? The problem with the polish community is, they bitch and whine about other nationalities (chinese/mexican’ts/etc…) taking over but the REAL non-online polish community does very little to help eachother out. Sure you buy pączki and support them that way, but what about those polaks wanting to establish some sort of advertisement campaign? help spread the word out, help around the business.

    The thing with the Chinese, Italian, etc… they have a strong community that actually supports one another and helps. Creating a forum and site and writing articles that get very little hits won’t lighten the polish community. Doing fundraising, volenteering…that helps.

    When did any of you do a Humane Society/Womens abuse/bum shelter day and help them?

    Of course never…because it’s easier to write on a blog about some shitty topic very little people will read.

    The polish bakery, good riddence. Just like Sikorski/Alicia’s find foods. I rather buy my meats and food from Loblaws/other stores rather then pay a high cost for the same food.

    To stay competitive, you need to lower the prices but increase traffic. This is a huge fail within the polish sales community.

    • Anna August 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm # Reply

      Great article, Jakub!

      Too bad little shops like this one are being wiped out all around North America. Although, perhaps the general, global distaste for monopolizing, business giants will encourage entrepreneurs to pull up those boot straps and start opening up more community-oriented shops. Nothing builds community like a local hotspot at which people can meet and around which people can rally.

      Too bad this article came after the shop’s closing, because the way you describe it, it seems like a place that would have definitely been worth visiting!

      • J. Marchel August 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm # Reply

        Anna,

        Thank you for your kind words about my post, that’s very nice of you to say. I agree, it is a shame, but 40 years is a pretty long and succesful business run. I can’t blame them for wanting to close. Still, they will me missed. I would definitely have written this article before its closing but I was out of the country for a while and didn’t know it was closed until months after the fact. Oh well. There are still a couple of nice Polish places in that area to visit. Benna’s is a nice grocery/deli/bake goods store, and Cafe Polonaise is a great restaurant. It has the best zureck I’ve ever had!

    • Paul Sulżycki August 10, 2012 at 12:08 am # Reply

      Manney, thanks for popping by. Yours is a misconception many share; that hands-on work in the community is the only thing that builds and sustains it. It’s not, and the burnout rate is quite high. Coincidentally, this is still what Polonia uses as its model for survival. It has only succeeded thus far because of the raw energy present in our members, often stemming from a deep patriotism and pride in our roots passed down from our parents. Please read Magda’s insightful article on this topic, “Cruel Mistress”.

      Secondly, you specifically mention fundraising and volunteering… for what? Money in the big communities you bring up is not made through these means; it’s made largely through hefty support from rich benefactors, and through the continued maintenance of high-class foundations that provide scholarships and bursaries to promising members, who, in turn, reach back to support their community when they have achieved personal success. Again, the idea of putting your nose to the grindstone and sweating blood for a Polonia festival or to get some obscure Polish artist to come for a small exhibition is painfully outdated. The good news is that we now realize this. Knowing so, we can move forward at a stronger pace, avoiding pitfalls that have plagued our community’s development in the past. For the record though, the majority of the people involved in PISK—especially in contributing and maintaining this site—volunteer a lot more than they should to more causes than they have time for. This might just be a PISK thing though ; ).

      Three final points for you: one, this site maintains an impressive visiting demographic, especially considering the blog was only launched in February of this year. Two, if even only a handful of visitors ever read anything ever posted on here, our site still serves a great archival purpose and promotes deep reflective discussions among our core group of authors and their readership. The number of times I have gone to Polonia events—PISK and otherwise—and have been met with a discussion that stemmed from a PISK post is surprising… again, especially considering how young this project is and how small the demographic of sincerely active and caring Polonia is across the nation.

      Three: I have to disagree with your views on capitalistic “let the strongest man win” consumerism. There are many hidden costs associated with buying products from bigger corporations; they’re just diluted along the process through “savings” that big corporations make when they produce items in countries with sketchier labour codes, weak human rights advocacy, easily-corruptible regulatory bodies, and poor laws that encourage the damaging of the local environment just so external money can find its way into the community. I highly recommend viewing Anne Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” series, especially her flagship video, to learn more about this “dilution of cost” idea.

      For this reason alone, I support small, local businesses wherever possible, regardless of the fact that they may be Polish or not. Yes, every business needs to stay competitive, and yes, the Polish community continues to fail on this front (for the most part, Starsky’s being a notable exception). However, this is not due to higher prices—again, look to the final words in Magda’s excellent article: “So maybe you’re still not yet entirely convinced that culturally-oriented businesses are a viable alternative to reviving a community. Fine. All I’m suggesting is that you think it over… maybe while your Caucasian self digs into a $30 plate of raw fish with your oh-so-easy-to-use chopsticks.” People will pay more for a product… if they think it’s superior and worth having. I mean, just think Starbucks. Polonia’s problem, on the other hand, is image and PR. But we’re slowly changing that. First-generation immigrants from families who fled a war-torn state that was subjugated to a communist regime for five decades generally don’t have very much to work with, but we’re doing the best with what we’ve got. And you know, I’m kind of proud of where we currently stand, and excited at the prospect of where we can look to stand in the future—both us, and our children.

      Manney, please do not take this as a personal attack on you. You raised some very valid concerns and I am thankful for the discussion they produced. Please continue perusing our site and good luck with all your volunteering at soup kitchens and dog pounds : ).

      • Anna August 10, 2012 at 12:45 am # Reply

        Couldn’t have said it better myself!

      • Marcin August 10, 2012 at 9:30 am # Reply

        Thank you for the response Paul, I’m glad you took the time to make these points! And Jake, very well written article, this is the kind of quality stuff we need more of 🙂

        • J. Marchel August 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm # Reply

          Thanks Marcin. That’s nice of you to say.

  2. Jessica W August 10, 2012 at 12:19 am # Reply

    I read elsewhere that Granowska’s closed because Elizabeth wanted to retire. Who knows for sure, but it’s sad they closed. http://www.thegridto.com/life/food-drink/goodbye-granowskas/

    I agree with you about Cafe Polonez. I make the trip from Richmond Hill to Roncesvalles several times a year to eat authentic Polish food. Their zurek is great, as are their pierogi ruskie and nalesniki.

  3. Monika August 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm # Reply

    Great post, thank you for sharing. My family used to frequent Granowska’s in Łódź. The bakery closed and they left town. Imagine how surprised my mother was to find Granowska’s here in Toronto 25 years later. An institution on Roncesvalles- it will be missed.

    • J. Marchel August 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm # Reply

      Thanks Monika.

  4. Kathy Klodas July 13, 2014 at 10:25 pm # Reply

    Thank you Jake for such kind and uplifting words! I can’t believe that I haven’t seen your article until now. There were many reasons as to why we closed our doors. Yes, my mother wanted to retire. She’s old school Polish, and when she says retire I know she would have still come in to work at 4am in her retirement. I would have hated to place a restraining order on a 75 year old let alone my own mother. I jest. But I still wouldn’t even take that chance. Another reason was that it was getting harder and harder to acquire high quality ingredients for reasonable prices. We were known for not skimping on quality. As a result, trying to keep our prices down, it became almost impossible to find any ingredient that met our high standards for any profitable return. No customer would pay for our paczki the price that we would have actually had to charge just to maintain a business. I would not compromise our products or reputation just to remain competitive in pricing. I could and would not sleep at night knowing that we sold inferior products that could and would eventually make our customers sick. That’s not why we baked our products. Our products brought friends and families together around the table to share special occasions, which we are honoured that we were a part of. People show me pictures of their childhood birthdays and a strawberry whipped cream cake from Granowska’s is front and centre. One never realizes how much something may seem so small to them could have such an impact on others lives.
    And trust me… I miss the paczki too!!! I haven’t had one since.

    • Tony July 9, 2017 at 4:36 pm # Reply

      I know years have passed since the last comment, but I have to say it is the strangest sensation to read the comment from Kathy Klodas explaining why Granowska’s in Toronto has closed when I remember a young woman handing me my two scoops of ice cream, her grandmother, Mrs. Maria Granowska, back in Łódź, what still seems like yesterday.

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