With its abundant offerings of produce and local cottage-industry edibles, an outing to Eastern Market can spark a craving in any shopper. For Kim Stricker, a pierogi hankering while browsing the sheds one morning in 2008 sparked an appetite for entrepreneurship.
“Friends and I were down there doing our normal Saturday shopping and we thought, you know what would be good down here is pierogi,” says Stricker, a Ferndale resident who co-founded People’s Pierogi Collective.
Stricker grew up in a traditional Polish family, listening to her maternal grandparents speak Polish at home and enjoying her grandmother’s cooking. That meant eating plenty of pierogi, an Eastern European dumpling traditionally stuffed with potato, sauerkraut, meat, or cheese.
Stricker and a friend approached Eastern Market about cooking and selling freshly made pierogi once a week. The market welcomed the proposal and encouraged her to bring a cart. She asked her father, a metal fabricator, to make her one.
“After he stopped laughing, he asked, ‘What’s a pierogi cart?’ ” Stricker says. “He spent the winter building me this pierogi cart, which is like a hot-dog cart and, in the spring, I took it down to Eastern Market.”
While her father made the cart, Stricker, who also works as a marketing and advertising consultant, turned to Twitter and Facebook for input on her nascent company’s name and logo, and the People’s Pierogi Collective (PPC) was born. Once she got the green light from Eastern Market, she and her business partner, Sheryl Gregoire, whom Stricker calls “a phenomenal cook,” set about tweaking tradition; the company’s lighthearted name reflects its dedication to consumer feedback and input on pierogi fillings.
“We did quite a bit of research, and I have 30 pounds that I gained [to show for it],” Stricker says. “We wanted to make sure we respected Polish culture in how we went about making the pierogi. There are some purists out there, especially my grandmother. We make sure the base is great and that people really enjoy that and build it from there.”
That means making lots of traditional pierogi in their Hamtramck kitchen, but also “riding the line between traditional and experimental,” Stricker says, using Eastern Market as a test market for creative concoctions. One of PPC’s biggest sellers is a breakfast pierogi, stuffed with scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese.
“The breakfast pierogi has been a huge seller,” she says. “I think it’s become part of people’s ritual in the morning to come [to the market] and get some pierogi and do their grocery shopping.”
Other options include pierogi stuffed with sweet potato, peanut butter and fresh strawberries, peach cobbler, and jalapeño popper — all the result of consumer suggestions.
Stricker says that being open to unconventional inspiration means a bit of trial and error: “I can say that with the peanut butter and jelly, even though everyone was excited about it, once they tried it they were like, I don’t know about it.”
As PPC got off the ground, it connected with the Michigan State University Product Center for business support. Frank Gublo, an innovation counselor with the center, says Stricker’s marketing and products both stand out.
“She’s created a community around the product using social media,” Gublo says. “Lots of people do a non-traditional filling, but it’s kind of the sideline. What makes her different is she features her non-traditional fillings and embraces it.”
Gublo calls himself a traditionalist who favors sauerkraut pierogi. “For me that’s from growing up — I’m a Polish kid from upstate New York,” he says. “But my girlfriend is a vegetarian, and her favorite is the portabella mushroom.”
As Stricker’s pierogi grew in popularity, she added some Tuesdays at Eastern Market and began selling them at the Birmingham Farmers Market on Sundays. She also serves her dumplings at private parties and is exploring retail sales and franchising her carts.
“The food-cart business is hot right now,” she says. “People are looking for something more than a hot-dog vendor or elephant ears. We’re focused on doing a quality product but in more substantial quantities. If people want to franchise, we can build them a cart and can get them product.”
Even as the PPC expands, Stricker is focused on not straying too far from her roots.
“We’ve stuck with basic ingredients … eggs, flour, potatoes, farmer’s cheese,” she says. “We want to bring a quality wholesome product you remember from grandma’s kitchen.”