Pierogi for all: Polish markets expand into Detroit’s suburbs

This is the first in a series on Metro Detroit's rich tapestry of ethnic markets. We're looking at how these centers of our cultural heritage reflect and celebrate the history and diversity of our region. 
We hope you enjoy reading about these places as much as we enjoy visiting them.
If you've ever chomped down on a paczek—a fried Polish treat that resembles a jelly donut—to celebrate Paczki Day, you're probably well aware of the firm hold Polish cuisine has in southeast Michigan.

According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census, Metro Detroit ranks third among metropolitan Polish-American population centers in the United States. As a result, Polish fare is a tasty part of our local food culture that's intimately linked to that vibrant community.

Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with Polish cuisine is to stroll through the aisles of one of the Polish markets spread across the region. We have plenty of them. Historically, they've been concentrated in Hamtramck and Detroit's Poletown neighborhood, where the Polish community got its first foothold in the region during a wave of immigration that started in the 1880s and stretched into the early 20th century.

Over the last few decades, however, the Polish population has waned in these areas as folks have migrated to Macomb, Oakland and other parts of Wayne County.

Where they have gone, Polish markets have followed.

To get a feel for the diversity of Polish grocery stores in the region, Metromode visited three different markets, two with roots in Hamtramck and a third that sprouted in Livonia.

Bozek's Market

Founded in the early nineties, Bozek's is a Polish specialty market with shops in Hamtramck and Sterling Heights that’s known for its homemade kielbasa (Polish sausages) and pierogis (dumplings stuffed with fillings like potato, ground meat, or sauerkraut). It's also got a reputation for fresh meats, in-house soups, homemade baked goods and a wide selection of imported items from Europe. Customers can purchase hot ready-to-eat meals, party platters and variety bundles of different fresh meats.

Edward Bozek, a native of Kraków Poland, established the market that bears his name in 1991, four years after he immigrated to the United States. According to his son Michael, who now manages the shops, he’s been preparing meats his entire adult life.

"He's been a butcher and a sausage maker since he was age 14," says the younger Bozek. "He had a store even during communism in Poland to make kieska and head cheese and liver sausage. That's all they allowed him to make during communism."

After briefly living in Utah, Bozek found work at Sam's Market, another local grocery, before eventually opening his own small shop on Holbrook in Hamtramck. The family moved to its current location on Caniff in 1988 and expanded operations there in 2008 after a fire.

Bozek’s cut the ribbon on their first Sterling Heights store in 2001, and relocated to a different spot in that city in 2007. European immigrants tend to move directly to Hamtramck when they first come to the region, according to Bozek, but many later move to the suburbs. So Bozek’s followed their customers to their new homes.

While Bozek's clientele is primarily made up of European immigrants, the grocery makes an effort to appeal to neighborhood customers as well. Noting the recent closure of Polish Market’s Hamtramck store, Michael Bozek thinks Bozek’s has continued to thrive at their original location because they’ve been able to reach out to a broad customer base.

"We diversified with times,” he says. “We advertise on TV and have two things on special. We go out to search for customers to get what they want, not just what we think they should have."

Srodek’s Campau Quality Sausage Co.

Located on Joseph Campau Avenue, Srodek’s Campau Quality Sausage Co. is another family-owned operation based in Hamtramck.  As the name suggests, it specializes in meat; hungry patrons can pick from nearly 40 different varieties of smoked meat made in the market's own smokehouses.

There's also a vast assortment of ethnic and domestic food to choose from: domestic and imported deli meats and cheeses; six varieties of sauerkraut; a large selection of pierogi (including non-traditional pizza and jalapeno popper options); soups; and Polish specialties like g
olumpki (stuffed cabbage) and nalesniki (crepes).

Magdalena Srodek, the granddaughter of the shop’s founders, runs their Hamtramck store with her brother Rodney.

"When it comes to deli meats and things of that nature, we make everything in-house. So we stuff cabbages," she tells Metromode. "The greater majority of our lunch meats are made here. We go to the extent of barreling our own sauerkraut and even make our own homemade farmer's cheese that my mom curds."  

Srodek's has been a staple of Polish life in Hamtramck since 1981, when Walter and Marianna Srodek opened their first delicatessen there. With the exception of Magdalena and her brother's children, the entire family comes from a small village in southeastern Poland. They left Poland to escape communist rule. Once here, they picked up again with their family business.

"My grandma used to run a general food store back in Poland," Magdalena Srodek says. "Regions tended to specialize in certain things, and our family specialized in agriculture and food-making."

Srodek’s now supplies food to the greater bulk of Polish festivals in metro Detroit and is closely involved with local churches and community groups. Beyond that, it has a diverse clientele befitting of Hamtramck's multi-cultural reputation. They even get some tourists these days as a result of being featured on the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods for its
spicy headcheese and jellied pig’s feet. The market now offers online shipping to reach out-of-state customers.

Srodek's plans to expand this fall by opening a second store in Sterling Heights, which will feature a restaurant, European-style bakery and in-house microbrewery. Asked why they've done so well, Magdalena Srodek says it's because Srodek's employees prepare food as if they're making it for themselves and treat their customers with respect.

"You can't forget that your customers are the most important people," she says. "They help you survive and also help you grow as a business."

Polanka Market

Nestled in a little storefront on Plymouth Road not far from Middlebelt, Polanka Market brings a taste of Poland to suburban Livonia. The small grocery is stocked with Polish lunch meats from Chicago, sausages, stuffed cabbage, in-house baked goods, imported food, pierogies and a smorgasbord of other Polish delights.

"We offer fresh sausage, which my brother makes and stuffed cabbage, and a lot of people like our City chicken," says proprietor Christine Lewandowski, who co-owns the market with her brother Lech Zochowski. "Everybody likes the little twists we bring to the products."

Other homemade products include pork chops, sauerkraut, meatballs, dill pickle and chicken dumpling soups, and Polish cheesecake made from farmer's cheese.

Lewandowski, a Polish immigrant, originally came to the United States on a trip to visit family in 1981 but ended up staying after she fell in love. She and her brother, who arrived about 15 years later, launched the grocery in 2006.

"We decided that we're going to open this small Polish grocery, because we couldn't find any good sausage around here," she tells Metromode with a laugh.

Although business was slow at first, it grew over time as the result of advertising in Polish newspapers and positive word of mouth. Increased traffic allowed Lewandowski to expand the deli counter, increase homemade options and offer catering.
The clientele now includes immigrants from Romania and Czechoslovakia, Americans of Polish birth, and a surprising amount of native-born Poles from Livonia and nearby communities like Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Canton and Novi.

"I was surprised that there’s a lot of Polish people living around here," says Lewandowski. "I thought it was concentrated in Hamtramck and Sterling Heights. But, no, I guess they're all over!"