As a fair warning – you’re about to read a 1000+ word interview about a type of a dessert. But that’s the kind of enthusiasm that just oozes (all puns in this article are MAYBE intended) from Chris Svetlik and Brian Stanford, two Texan transplants to DC and founders of the much buzzed about Republic Kolache.
If you by for some reason (what are you, a monster?) don’t feel like delving deep into this Kolache talk, what you need to know is this: everyone is talking about kolache, and Republic Kolache is DC’s first kolache operation and there will be an American Ice Company Grand Opening / Pop-Up / Residency starting this Saturday, featuring all sorts of deliciousness this Saturday so you can see them, try them, believe the hype. That’s kind of the essential info. Plus, here’s an equally essential gif:
For more, read on, before you eat on:
BYT: For someone who has never had one, how would you describe kolache?
Chris & Brian: The kolache is a Czech pastry with a cult following in Texas, consisting of a light, yeasty, slightly sweet dough filled with fruit or savory ingredients (think blueberry, poppyseed, or jalapeño sausage & cheese).
Its story in the U.S. starts with Czech immigrants settling in central Texas & the midwest in the1840s, bringing with them their polka, their sausages and their kolaches. For a long time, kolaches were only the stuff of family baking days in these small insular Czech towns (fun fact: Chris’s family spoke no English, only Czech, between 1870-1950 living in rural towns around Shiner, TX).
But in the last half century or so kolaches have broken into the Texan mainstream (now unofficially the “National Pastry of Texas”). In a Houston donut shop you’re just as likely to find kolaches as donuts. And any veteran of Houston-to-Austin or Austin-to-Dallas roadtrips knows about the iconic kolache bakeries like Czech Stop or Hruska’s (which in uniquely Texan fashion, are always attached to giant gas station convenience stores).
These days people are saying the kolache might be the next cronut. We don’t know about that, but we are excited to introduce DC to this delicious slice of Czech-Texan cuisine!
BYT: Why kolache?
Brian: They’re a part of our upbringing, they’re delicious, and they’re not here. So we decided to make our own because, honestly, we were craving them and thought others in the DC community might be as well.
Chris: For me this is also a gratifying way to keep the family tradition alive. Our recipe is an adaptation of the old Svetlik family recipe which has been passed down for generations and (literally) exists as confusing pencil scratch on paper. The Czech culture in the small Texan towns my family grew up in has been diluted as the younger generation (like me) has left and moved to cities, so I like the idea of doing my small part to sustain the quirky traditions of the Czech-Texans.
BYT: How did you two find each other?
Chris & Brian: Texans just gravitate toward one another. We met through mutual friends at a party and within 5 minutes, had already started talking about the treasures of our far-off home state, one of which being kolaches.
We eventually starting getting together for regular baking sessions and after a solid year of R&D we started putting the pieces together for what you now see as Republic Kolache.
BYT: Describe your favorite kolache memory from childhood/adulthood/kolache business?
Brian: my Dad would always stop at a gas station kolache bakery on drives between Houston and Austin and we’d get a box of kolaches for breakfast or for a snack.
Chris: baking kolaches with my grandma growing up. We generally stuck to the traditional ones like poppyseed, and even some of the weirder ones like sweet cabbage and farmer’s cheese.
Oh and then also that time we got to serve Sec. Madeleine Albright birthday kolaches (!!)
BYT: Sweet or savory and why?
Brian: Please don’t make me decide.
Chris: Sweet OR savory? Sweet THEN savory.
BYT: Favorite flavor?
Brian: Growing up, it was cream/cottage cheese and it hasn’t changed.
Chris: It’s always been poppyseed for me– that is, until we came up with the Half Smoke kolache, our ode to DC (half smokes from Meats & Foods with sharp cheddar and Shiner-brined jalapeño relish). Now it’s a tossup.
BYT: What is the Republic Kolache division of labor?
Chris is more of the front-of-house, retail, marketing, and business development guy (and he makes the kolache GIFs). Brian is more of the back-of-house kitchen operations guy.
BYT: Is it all you two or is there a higher collaborative spirit involved in the process?
Chris & Brian: Since starting the business it’s primarily been the two of us– though we’ve been staffing up over the past month as we’re preparing for the big retail launch.
And we’re also currently hiring good people (both retail and baking staff) to help us get this crazy kolache venture off the ground.
BYT: What is the secret to making a great kolache?
Brian: Time, care, and a good vibe/relationship with your dough. You have to know it by feel because it may behave differently from day to day. Also, really good fillings ingredients. In Texas, kolaches get kind of low-brow treatment with things like pie filling out of a can. As Texans, we’re capable of better than that.
The kolache has has plenty of buzz around the country but why do you think no one tried to make them in DC yet?
Chris: It’s a great question. You wouldn’t believe how many people have come up to us and said they’ve been tinkering with the idea of a kolache bakery in DC before we announced our plans. I love the idea though of DC being a hub for state- and regionally-based foods in this country. Though not necessarily a hotbed of Czechs, I think DC is a perfect place for kolaches to break through to new audiences.
BYT: What are some of the things people can expect at the American Ice Residency:
Chris & Brian: Definitely be on the look-out for a few touches that offer some nods to the Texas cuisine, culture & design we grew up loving, including: some neon work that provides a literal ‘tip of the hat’ to Daniel Johnston, a series of tray liners we commissioned, wherein several DC & Texas artists have illustrated an ‘ode to the kolache,’ Texan cuisine, etc. Oh, and a beautiful big exterior kolache sign hand lettered by Martin Swift
BYT: After these pop-ups, what is the big picture plan and timeline?
Chris & Brian: We’re still feeling that out. We’d love for kolaches to have a permanent home within the DC community, but what that home eventually looks like is anyone’s guess at this point.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD:
- We’re pretty serious about high quality ingredients. All our fillings are made in-house; we do all our own fruit preserves and pickles. And we also focus on suppliers who care about quality (such as Meats & Foods for all our sausages).
- We have some exciting things in the works soon: a brisket kolache, a guest chef program where we’ll work with an awesome DC chef each month to design a flavor for some limited-run kolaches, and we’re also working with someone in town to ‘reconstruct’ the old Czech style of country sausage for use in our kolaches.
- We found a distributor to stock Topo Chico, the beloved brand of mineral water, for us. Austinites rejoice.
Got all that guys? Ok, lets eat.