Chicago Polish bakery opens store in Palatine with 40 varieties of bread
If you've never heard anyone wax poetic about bread, you've never talked to Bartlomiej Kolatek.
"Bread baking is very romanticized. How it rises, the steam, the aroma ... sometimes it gets messy, but it's also beautiful," Kolatek says.
Kolatek and his family own Kolatek's Bakery & Deli, which after 35 years in business in Chicago, now has a second location called Kolatek Baking Co. in Palatine.
The 3,300-square-foot store at 1916 N. Rand Road opened this week. It has a deli with food made from scratch, like pierogies, potato pancakes, cutlets, sauerkraut and more, as well as shelf groceries imported from places like Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
But at its heart, Kolatek's is a neighborhood bakery, the kind that believes that daily fresh bread is not simply an option, but an imperative.
"Local neighborhood bakeries are dying out. They're dinosaurs," Kolatek said. "But we need to get our bread production out of industrial parks and into the neighborhoods."
Kolatek's offers about 40 varieties of fresh bread, predominantly rye bread and sourdough bread, as well as spelt bread and bread made with ancient grains like farro, kamut, amaranth, seed, blackseed and more.
"We tell people, 'You have options.' Especially for the finicky eater," Kolatek said.
The Kolatek family hails from Rabka, Poland, about an hour south of Krakow.
The Chicago bakery was started by Bartlomiej Kolatek's mother, Sophie, who immigrated to Chicago in 1984 with her six-year-old son to reunite with her husband, Janusz, who'd immigrated three years prior.
The couple opened the original Kolatek's in 1986 in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood, then opened a second store in the mid-90s at 2445 N. Harlem Avenue. The original location was sold in 2004 in favor of expanding the Harlem Avenue store.
After Janusz Kolatek's death in 2004 due to heart disease, the family decided on a new focus on heart-healthy breads, his son said.
While there are many commercially available breads made with whole grains, they typically are manipulated to try to mimic white bread, Kolatek said. Instead, his family's bakery aims to "preserve the goodness of the grain" and "let it dictate the bread's taste," he said.
"We take the grain to another level with the crust, the texture, the mouth feel," he said. "You get lots of tones -- nuttiness, even like a floral bouquet, but not overpowering."
At one point, Kolatek's had started selling bread to local grocery stores -- slicing it, packaging it and delivering it -- but then stopped. The decision was about keeping a true respect for bread, which only has a true shelf life of one to two days, Kolatek said.
"Bread is being disrespected everywhere," he said.
At Kolatek's, bread rests on cooling racks until it's ready to be sliced. It's even better if customers slice their bread at home, once slice at a time, to prevent oxygen from seeping into the loaf and aging it prematurely, Kolatek said.
The Palatine store is in a small strip mall that also has a Chinese restaurant and an Indian-Pakistani restaurant. The Kolatek family has owned the strip mall for about 20 years, when the idea of opening a location in Palatine first came about, Kolatek said.
After having a variety of tenants over the years, three spaces opened up and the decision was made to open the newest store.
"It took forever because of the COVID-19 pandemic," Kolatek said.
Kolatek's also offers bulk products for amateur bakers, and carries spices, herbs and teas from around the world. There are keto-friendly and diabetic-friendly products, like organic natural sweeteners an "amazing" cheesecake and brownies, Kolatek said.
The store is working on revamping its website to allow online ordering, and will eventually be available for home delivery via DoorDash.
Its identity, however, is clear.
"In Palatine, we are going back to the small, cute, local neighborhood shop and bakery," Kolatek said, "and we love it."