Making It: Perfecting A Polish Tradition With Pierogi Pantry

Maker: Nikki & Jay Odongray     
Pierogi Pantry & More, North Olmsted, sold online and at the Frostville Farmer’s Market every Saturday.

How did you decide to start your own business, and why pierogi?

Jay: Well, I was not working at the time and I was like, ‘what can I do to do something at home that's productive that'll help out?’ And Nikki’s parents used to make pierogi every year, and I helped them one time. I had never made pierogi before — ate them all my life but never made them. And I was like, ‘these seem easy to make.’ So I just offered, I went on Facebook and asked friends and family to see who'd be interested in buying some pierogis. And it just started from there. I did it once a month and then it got really popular. And we're like, ‘do we want to do this?’ That's where it started.

Nikki Odongray rolls out dough for one of their signature flavors, the Pizza-Rogi. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

Lots of small business owners seem to agree that Cleveland offers a strong sense of community to entrepreneurs just starting out. Was that your experience as well?

Nikki: Yes, I think because we started out of the Central Kitchen that we immediately felt like we were part of a community, which is not something I would have ever expected starting a small business. It seems like a very lonely, overwhelming type of thing. But from the very beginning, we built these relationships with all of these other small business owners. And there were people there that had been doing it for several years and were able to mentor us and guide us, and everybody is kind of at a different point in their journey, and everybody really helps each other.

Jay Odongray assembles pierogi at the Central Kitchen, a collaborative kitchen space, located on Euclid Ave. in Cleveland. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

Now that your business has grown since its beginning in 2017, you’re looking to bring that sense of community and collaboration full circle by building the Cleveland Bakery Collective. What’s the premise behind it?

Nikki: It’s really something we've talked about from the very beginning, that when we did get to that point where we were growing, we never just wanted to open a Pierogi Pantry store. We always wanted to do something collaborative. And, you know, when we found this [bakery] space, it was perfect. There was enough room that we could have different companies working in it. With small home bakers that don't necessarily have the opportunity to sell out of a retail storefront, we can give them that opportunity. When we were in that situation, we needed a commercial kitchen and we couldn’t afford to buy a commercial kitchen, so we hope we can give other small businesses that opportunity to scale up their operations.

The Odongrays are building the Cleveland Bakery Collective at the former location of Becker's Donuts on Lorain Rd. in North Olmsted. [Nikki Odongray]

As a married couple, how has running a business together changed the dynamic of your relationship?

Nikki: The funny thing is that for the most part we don't balance each other out. We're basically the same person. It's awesome for our relationship that we're so similar in so many ways because we just jive on each other. But then when it comes to running a business and other things, it does, I think, make it more difficult that we don't balance each other out at all. We both like to eat and cook, and neither one of us likes business or finance or any of that stuff.

Jay: I just cook.

Nikki: So, I got stuck learning Excel spreadsheets and accounting and marketing and web design. Basically in our relationship, I do all the things she doesn't want to do.

Jay: So, I think that's fair. [laughs]

Jay (left) and Nikki Odongray on their wedding day in 2016. [Nikki Odongray]

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