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Tasty pierogie production, consumption climb

Matthew and Kelly Lewis relied on two main ingredients to fire up their fledgling business: an entrepreneurial spirit and a great family recipe.
A year ago the Pierogie Guy was a part-time venture for Matthew, 31, and Kelly, 34. But a fruitful summer selling their homemade pierogies at the public market, adding new and unique flavors and being picked up by several area restaurants recently has allowed Matthew to leave his teaching job to focus on the company full time.
Kelly previously had left her job at Eastman Kodak Co. to stay home with the couple’s two daughters.
“We were doing (the business) weekends and summers, holidays, whenever we could squeeze it in,” Matthew says. “Then when we got to this past summer we said let’s give it all we’ve got this summer and see if we can get it to a point where it can kind of live on its own.”
Matthew now spends his time making the pierogies, using his grandmother’s recipe, while Kelly concentrates on marketing, advertising and maintaining the company’s Web site. The couple-the Pierogie Guy’s only staffers-operates the business out of a second, commercial kitchen in their East Rochester home.
Through strictly word-of-mouth advertising, the Pierogie Guy’s products now are being offered at Lori’s Natural Foods Center, Fairfield Farms, Flour City Diner and Rohrbach Brewing Co.
The company began with a traditional potato cheddar pierogie and since has added several flavors, including potato cheddar with bacon, sauerkraut, sauerkraut with mushroom and, more recently, a cheesy spinach and garlic smashed potato. Depending on the flavor, the pierogies sell for $7 to $8 a dozen.
“Then we came up with the Buffalo chicken-which was actually Kelly’s idea-and I had to figure out a way to do it,” Matthew says. “That’s been our best seller so far.”
Operating a highly specialized business is a competitive benefit, Matthew says, but what makes the Pierogie Guy unique is the fact that its product is made by hand and pre-boiled, unlike some other brands.
“They’re handmade, good quality and the pre-cooking is kind of what we’re doing to set us apart from any competition,” he says.
Matthew acknowledges that the handmade aspect of the process can have its limitations in terms of production quantity, but he does not see that as a long-term concern.
“Every week we’re hammering them out as fast as we can make them,” he says. “Every week I try to make a little bit more. It keeps growing and growing.”
For now the company will continue its low-profile marketing, Kelly says.
“Eventually we’ll start doing more advertising, but for right now, with the quantity we make and word-of-mouth, it’s a good mix,” she says.
While the couple declines to discuss revenues, Matthew notes the business recently has become debt free and the two have begun to take paychecks.
“So the business is legitimately supporting us now,” he says.
A short-term goal for the Pierogie Guy is to maximize production capacity in its commercial kitchen in order to take advantage of the low cost of operation.
“Once we get to that point we’ll probably look for some type of rental space, preferably with a storefront so that we can get some walk-in traffic,” Matthew adds.
Though they are content with the way things are going now, Kelly says that at times it can be difficult to separate home from work, especially given the two are so intertwined.
“I think that’s our biggest issue right now-drawing that line and saying we’re done at 5 today or we’re done at 6 and let’s not talk about pierogies again,” she says.
Kelly says she gets the most excitement out of seeing how far the business has come from the days when she and her husband sold their pierogies to co-workers.
“It takes a lot of persistence,” she says, “and our persistence has paid off.”
For Matthew, the thrill is in the pride he feels when he sees repeat customers at the public market.
“I’ve never had more fun in my life at a profession,” he says. “As taxing and time-consuming as it is, when you come home from the market and you’ve had a good day, it’s such a high to know this is all ours. We’ve done it from scratch.”
vspicer@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

10/12/07 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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