“We’re very different, so hopefully people who embrace differences can support us.”
Olga Sagan’s Seattle-based bakery Piroshky Piroshky is known for its hot handheld homemade pies. The piroshki, an Eastern European bun, can have sweet or savory fillings, and their menu includes vegetarian and vegan options as well.
Boston is the one of the newest cities on the bakery’s tour of pop-up locations, with pre-orders available to pick up in West Roxbury on April 9.
Sagan, a St. Petersburg native, became a partial owner of the iconic Seattle bakery in 2006, assumed full ownership in 2017, and had to adapt the business at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were five separate Piroshky Piroshky locations, but when sales dropped by 90% in 2020, two had to be permanently closed. One is still open, while the rest are still shuttered, as Seattle’s downtown has yet to come back to life, she said in an interview.
In response, Sagan adapted the bakery to incorporate tours, pop-ups, and delivery, and now they’re making their way to the East Coast. On April 9, her products will be available for pre-order pick-up at the Elks Lodge in West Roxbury. We asked her more about the tour and piroshky life in these interesting times.
How did the pop-up tour start?
We had to pivot to be able to keep all our employees employed, and one of the pivots was to start bringing our products around to nearby cities. As we were extending our reach, we realized that our product can handle bigger travel time, and we started going outside of the state and now we go as far north as Alaska in Anchorage, down south to Texas, Arizona, California, and so on. And now we’re slowly conquering the East Coast.
What was that transition like?
Instead of, you know, shutting down and conserving resources, we went the opposite direction, we started developing systems and online processes to create our own delivery system. It was definitely scary for about four months. We’re just losing tens of thousands of dollars without me knowing that it’s going to pay off in the long term. But then December of 2020, we … started to break even and cover all the employees. It took about six, seven months, which is really good for a new business model to start covering its cost. Now, we’re just having fun. We do 20 to 24 events a month.
Is everything made in Seattle?
Everything is made in Seattle, and we use a lot of Seattle brands or northwest brands. We use Tillamook cheese, we use Uli sausage … We’re really big about supporting local. And when we go out to different cities, we also partner with local businesses, wherever we go. It could be breweries, it could be wineries, it could be Elks Lodge.
Why didn’t you turn to third-party delivery services like many other businesses during the pandemic?
I was always against third-party delivery services because first of all, the integrity of the product, the fees that they charge, how they treat their drivers. I just personally have a lot of issues with third-party delivery. My choice was to double down and create our own delivery model, which we have successfully implemented, and we have completely shut down all our own third party delivery services and are handling it ourselves. We carry your product from our kitchen ovens to your door to your hands.
When the pandemic hit, were you worried about the business?
Absolutely. I am not afraid to say we have the best employees in the world, we have the best bakers in the world. Customer service is incredible. To become a truly robust baker in our bakery sometimes can take a year, so the training for our staff is very, very extensive. We have people who have been with us for 17 years, 10 years, 12 years, eight years, which is very rare for the food industry. When (the) pandemic hit, we were very scared to lose all that talent and for our employees to lose their jobs, so that was the biggest biggest scare for us.
What was the decision-making process to close two bakery locations?
It was very appropriate for the time, and we were able to reroute those people to our deliveries, pop-up events and on demand events. We were lucky to be able to pivot into the delivery and pop up model and use our talent and not lose it.
How do you think the piroshkies will go in Boston?
We’ll find out. The first time we go somewhere, we have no idea. We love meeting our own customers where they are. And it is really, overall an incredible experience to be able to do something like that. And thank you, your city for hosting us. I hope it’s going to be a success. We’re very different, so hopefully people who embrace differences can support us.