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Morning Shift

Fat Tuesday In Chicago: Hello Paczkis, Goodbye Swedish Bakery

Expect some long lines at bakeries Tuesday as people celebrate Paczki Day with Polish, jelly-filled pastries that are usually consumed as a pre-celebration to Lent. 

Tuesday also happens to be the final day of business for Andersonville’s Swedish Bakery, which will be selling its final batch of paczki after opening 88 years ago. 

Morning Shift host Jenn White spoke with to Ashok Selvam, senior editor at Eater Chicago, about the cultural history behind the paczki and the closing of the popular Swedish Bakery.

Jenn White: What’s in it? What makes it so decadent? 

Ashok Selvam: Well essentially it’s a Polish, holeless doughnut. It’s deep-fried, though with our healthy lifestyles there’s a few -- there’s one place in Evanston that’s offering baked. It is decadent. Around 500 calories. It’s kind of a treat before Lent because back in the mid-18th century, there was a king, Augustus III of Poland, and he kind of made that popular to gorge on.

They were savory at first. Right now they are filled with chocolate, vanilla custard. Rose petals is a pretty traditional filling.

White: How did they gain popularity in Chicago?

Selvam: Chicago has such a huge Polish population. I grew up in Jefferson Park on the North West Side. I called my babysitter “busia,” which is Polish for grandmother. In these midwestern cities -- Detroit being another one -- (we brought) the immigrant traditions back with us. These epicenters have bakeries and celebrate the old-world traditions.

White: What’s the difference between paczki and a regular jelly-filled doughnut?

Selvam: There’s a grain alcohol -- usually a vodka -- involved in the making of the doughnut. It gives it a little bit of a different taste. This isn’t something you’re going to get at Krispy Kreme. 

Folks just go absolute crazy. It’s a taste of nostalgia. It’s a limited time only type thing, so when you put that tag on a food item, people just lose their marbles.

White: Why is the Swedish Bakery closing after so long?

Selvam: The owners say that they’re not doing as well when it comes to business. It’s a bakery. All that nostalgic stuff is a double-edged sword. There is no wifi. It’s not a place where laptoppers can come in and spend the day and do their work. It’s a bakery. I think a lot of folks struggle with that concept. The owner was saying that millennials want kind of a food experience. In this age of Instagram, perhaps some of those old-world cakes aren’t Instagram-friendly. 

Another thing that’s a little more practical was they didn’t have any younger family members -- the Stantons -- to pass the business on.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the 'play' button to listen to the entire interview. 

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