March 28, 2013

Business Spotlight—Red Poppies: A Polish Pantry
          With the hopes of bringing Polish culinary and cultural traditions to Albany, Joanna Keblinski opened Red Poppies: A Polish Pantry on Lark Street in October of 2012. Joanna moved from Poland to the United States during the nineties, and brought her Polish roots and traditions along with her. She spent years cooking Polish dishes in her own personal kitchen, before deciding to open her own business and share her knowledge of Polish cuisine with the world.
         Offering a long list of deli goods, soups, traditional Polish gourmet items and a huge assortment of teas, at Red Poppies there is something on the menu for everyone. Red Poppies: A Polish Pantry also offers their services for special orders and catering. Open 6 days a week, from Tuesday to Friday 11:00am- 6:30 pm and Saturday, Sunday from 12:00pm-5:00pm. Come on down to A Polish Pantry and experience a traditional Polish meal.

Q: How long have you been in business?
A: Our shop opened in late October 2012.

Q: Describe your business.
A: Red Poppies is a gourmet deli specializing in foods of Polish origin, be they deli meats, prepared meals, or imports from Poland. But we are interested in selling more than just food – we hope to present Polish culinary and cultural traditions.

Q: How did you come up with the name for your business?
A: Red poppies have a historical and traditional meaning. Poppy seeds are often used in Polish cooking, especially in preparing the famous makowiec pastry. Traditionally, poppy seeds used to be kept in large bushels in Polish pantries, their large number a symbol and good omen of wealth and abundance. Historically, the red poppy recalls the Polish forces that advanced on Monte Cassino in World War 2, where they fought and died valiantly. The hill they charged, to this day, is covered in red poppies. We chose this name to recall both the traditional culinary and historical meanings. Both, we believe, are easily identified with Poland.

Q: What do you think makes your business stand out from others in the area?
A: While we like and frequent many of the shops around Lark St., Red Poppies complements the neighborhood by supplying a few things that are otherwise unavailable, that is, freshly cooked Polish food, imported products, and delicious Polish deli meats made by famous Polish-run firms in Brooklyn.

Q: Since opened, what has been your biggest success for your business?
A: Our success accumulates in small doses. Every customer who lets us know they enjoy our food and services gives us a boost in morale. Taken together, the positive sentiments of our customers are our greatest success.

Q: As a small business owner, what are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
A: As a small business, and especially one renting a space, it is always difficult to expand our services by upgrading our kitchen area and hiring more staff to help grow the business. We’re frequently faced with external constraints that limit our capacity to provide for our customers.

Q: What is your favorite part about running your business?
A: My favorite part of running the business is interacting with customers who are curious to know more about Polish food and culture, and subsequently serving them foods they have never tried before but discover that they greatly enjoy.

Q: Did you have any education or prior experience before opening this business?
A: I have a degree in film criticism and I have worked as a journalist in the past. My culinary experience comes from cooking for friends and family and traveling around the world to learn more about various food cultures.

Q: How do you see your business growing in the future?
A: We're currently planning to expand our kitchen and hire more staff so we can diversify our menu. If we're successful in this, then we will think about the next step.

Q: Looking back, is there anything you would do different?
A: Every day brings many decisions and challenges, there are really too many to think about having done something differently. Nothing big stands out.

Q: What made you choose Lark street as your businesses location?
A: We're residents of this neighborhood, and we chose Lark St. specifically to cater to our local community. We enjoy living here, and we hope our shop helps maintain the positive atmosphere of the neighborhood.

Q: Out of the assortment of teas you sell, which is your favorite?
A: I think that the fruit teas are the most spectacular. The "Forest Fruit" tea in particular, has a beautiful strong fragrance, even before it has been steeped. When I'm heading to bed however, I like to sip on chamomile tea to relax.

Q: On your Facebook page, you posted about collecting money for homeless animals. Are there any other charities you support through your business?
A: We set aside a large portion of our tips for charity. Each month we contribute to a different cause. December's tip jar went to a local veteran's association, January's to a dog in need of spinal surgery, and February's to homeless animals. Each month we post these charities to our Facebook page and ask our fans to suggest other programs that we could support. Look for updates at the end of March.

Q: All of your desserts sound amazing, which is your favorite to cook and why?
A: All of them are quite laborious to make, I'd rather tell you which is my favorite to eat. That would be our star product, the makowiec, or poppy seed roll, because its complex flavors make it a luxurious addition to afternoon tea.

Q: If you could recommend one item off the menu to people who have not tried Polish food yet, what would it be?
A: Everyone loves our stews, especially the Breton bean stew. Seems like a safe bet for a recommendation.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Your questions have covered a lot! Nothing more to add.

For More Information on Red Poppies
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