With origins in Central and Eastern Europe, kolaches are pastry rolls that are filled with fruit, or meat and cheese. These snacks have also become popular in the United States over the years, and the Kolache Factory, committed to the authenticity, craftsmanship, and food innovation, offers a modern take on this Old World treat.
Kolache Factory was founded in 1982 in Houston, Texas by co-founders John and Jerri Banks, who identified a need for a fresh, high quality breakfast that could be eaten on the run. While kolaches were popular in Central Texas at the time thanks to a large number of European immigrants in the area, they were virtually unknown in Houston. The Banks played a key role in bringing kolaches to local consumers. Today, Kolache Factory has grown to 50 locations throughout Texas as well as California, Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri – and the company has plans for even further expansion. New locations are opening in New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia by the end of this year.
Vice President Dawn Nielsen spoke with Business in Focus about what Kolache Factory has to offer for consumers, and why kolaches have become so popular.
“More people are pressed for time and eating out is their primary form of dining,” Nielsen explains. “It used to be that you would drive by a restaurant on a Monday or Tuesday night and the parking lot would be empty for the most part, but now that is not the case. Many people do not cook; if this is true for dinner, then you know it is true for breakfast. What makes our products so great and unique is that it is an inexpensive and nutritious meal that can be eaten on the go.
“We meet the criteria that parents are looking for to fill their kids up, to feed their kids a nutritious meal on the way to school. Our party trays are perfect for boardroom meetings because there are no utensils or heating elements to worry about. Simply open the top of our red catering boxes and voila – breakfast, lunch, or a snack is served. Cleanup, whether you’re in the car or in the office, is a breeze because it is all disposable.
The company offers a wide range of flavors to satisfy the palate of any consumer. “We are not fast food, we are quick serve,” says Nielsen. “We use a true Czech recipe and have Americanized it, adding flavors the public loves, from pepperoni and mushroom to Philly Cheesesteak. All of our dough is made on site at each bakery-café and freshly baked every morning.”
For breakfast, Kolache Factory offers Bacon & Cheese, Fruit, and Sausage & Gravy options. For those seeking a bit of flavor from south of the border, the company offers Jalapeno Poppers and Ranchero. Other flavors include Potato, Egg & Cheese, and Barbecue Beef. In total, the company offers over 25 flavors of kolaches. “Our product is a warm, delicious, slightly sweet, freshly baked pastry filled with meat, cheese, or fruit,” says Nielsen. “Our dough is made daily from scratch using the finest, freshest, quality ingredients.”
It seems to be a winning formula. Kolache Factory has been recognized as one of the Top Five Drive-thrus in the country by the Food Network, as well as one of the fastest growing companies in Houston. Notably, the company was recently named one of the top 50 food service bakeries in the United States by Modern Baking magazine. Additionally, Franchise Times magazine listed Kolache Factory as one of the top 20 bakery-cafés to watch. Currently, the company is also developing partnerships with Major League sports franchises.
The team is certainly on a trajectory of growth. “This year we will reach 50 units,” Nielsen says. “Two years ago, we had our first million-dollar store and we have two more in line that are nearing that benchmark; it is quite possible they could reach that this year.”
Even while expanding, Kolache Factory remains committed to providing its customers with a high-quality and nutritious meal served in a welcoming and family-friendly environment. The company is noted for its culture of service and dedication to keeping operations as efficient as possible, and the family-owned business is dedicated to empowering its employees and giving back to the communities it serves, as well as graciously serving all its customers.
“As with any restaurant, there is a high level of turnover, however many of our managers and supervisors have been with us for years,” shares Nielsen. “Our employees are cross-trained, which we strongly believe in. In our stores, you will rarely find a sole cashier or sole baker. Most of our employees are trained in preparing our kolaches and have an equal hand in serving our customers. This ensures our kitchens never fall behind, nor our front of house, as everyone is fully capable of taking on tasks.”
Kolache Factory also works with an extensive number of quality suppliers and vendors to provide the ingredients that they need for their restaurants. “Our vendors and suppliers do their best to work with us. They understand our challenges and do their part to ensure we get timely service and quality products. We enjoy working with them and having a close relationship where resolutions are easily met, and we have been with many of them for many years.”
Always keen to engage with the broader community, Kolache Factory finds ways to bring together its customers and its franchisees alike. The Kolache Olympics, an annual event held every summer, is one way company stores can compete against one another to come up with the next new flavor. “It is a lot of fun and we invite special judges, from radio personalities to firefighters, to help judge the entries,” explains Nielsen. The company also serves as a sponsor for the Houston Texans, the local NFL team, and has a partnership with the Sugar Land Skeeters, a Minor League Baseball team in suburban Houston.
Kolache Factory is also actively involved with social media, and maintains a robust presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The company has extensive plans to open new locations around the country as well as offering new flavors on the menu. There are also plans for a healthier kolache in the works. “Currently we plan to work with Healthy Dining in adjusting our kolache dough to be a trans-fat free item,” Nielsen shares.
Regarding plans for expansion, Nielsen says the company is primarily focusing on franchising and opening locations in Chicago, a city noted for its large population of people of Eastern European descent. “We are anxious to get into many markets where there is significant demand for something fresh and unique like our concept. We get requests quite frequently asking when we are going to open in Chicago, so that is definitely one market where we would love to be.”
The company is also planning to open stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the suburbs of Frisco and Murphy, Texas. Other new stores are planned for Virginia Beach, Virginia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Denver, Colorado. All of the stores will open between early June and late November of this year.
Kolache Factory has found success by serving unique, delicious treats to its customers. With plans for expansion, more people will be able to enjoy Kolache Factory kolaches throughout the nation. “Our diversity and uniqueness set us apart, and our dedication to innovation makes us one of the top companies in the restaurant industry,” Nielsen says. “Service, quality and community before all else.”