Vesecky’s Keeps the Bohemian Bakery Alive in Berwyn by Mike Gebert

14 07 2014

Photo by Mike Gebert

Vesecky’s Keeps the Bohemian Bakery Alive in Berwyn by Mike Gebert Apr 2, 2014

On the wall of Vesecky’s Bakery in Berwyn there’s a framed Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine piece from 1971, by the writer and poet Norbert Blei, who grew up in this area (and died last year in Door County):

Book cover showing Vesecky’s

There are almost as many bakeries along Cermak Road in Cicero and Berwyn as savings and loans… Nobody knows what it is between Bohemians and their bakery. They just never seem to get enough of it… No matter how many housky, or kolacky, or coffeecakes are on the table Saturday morning, someone in the family will usually be told, “Stop at Vesecky’s (or Fingerhut’s or Vales’ or Stetina’s or Minarik’s) for some Bohemian rye… maybe a poppyseed Babovka, too.”

Hardly a word of it remains the case 40 years later. Berwyn and Cicero are increasingly Mexican, all those other bakeries are gone, and the association between savings and loans and Bohemians (aka Czechs and Hungarians) is incomprehensible today. (Bohemians, despite their association with careless Parisian artists thanks to a certain opera, were notoriously the tightest bank customers in Chicago, impossible to sell credit cards or installment loans to; as an officer at the late Talman Federal Savings and Loan once told me, the Bohemian version of buying on time was “If you want a refrigerator, you save for ten years until you have the money to buy it.”)

And yet Vesecky’s Bakery survives. Old Man Vesecky, James Sr., 62 when Blei wrote about him, passed away in 2005 at 97, and the frantic overnight baking scene Blei describes had surely calmed down long before. Today it’s a quiet place, a couple of young female sales assistants serving the customers. But someone who knows the place’s heritage must still be in the back, cranking out both Czech apple srudl with its flat crust:

Surprisingly, it was the simplest thing, houska, that I think proved the most satisfying in the end. It’s basically raisin bread, but with brandy-soaked raisins, I think, and a dough made with milk and egg (close to challah or a less rich brioche). Simple, as befits a people who watched a buck like it was Dillinger planning an escape, yet completely satisfying. As long as you can swing by Vesecky’s for that, Norbert Blei’s world isn’t completely gone.




9 responses

14 07 2014

Yes, thanks Klaus!

14 07 2014

Makes me want to visit this bakery before it disappears!

16 07 2014

Best bakery ever!!!! Been shopping here since I was a child. Vesecky’s has always been the best

16 07 2014

Been going to Vesecky’s all my life! Even though I now live 45 miles away – an early Saturday AM trip for my Houska is a MUST!
Thank you for the wonderful write up for my favorite bakery.

16 07 2014

Totally agree with all of these comments. I live in Schaumburg now, but I live in fear of the day that Vesecky closes down or get bought out by another hispanic grocery store. Memories of going into Veseckys and getting our fill of bakery are one of my favorites of my childhood.

16 07 2014

I have been going to this bakery my whole life. (I am 53) and now I live in the western part of Wisconsin, and when I come home for a visit I always stop here for 6 or 8 houskas, some hot dog and sausage rolls, salt and almond horns, some rye bread and of course a few kolacky. I have actually cried when I walked in…the smell is like coming home.

17 07 2014

You have to try the muttnicks…

17 07 2014

Murph…what is a muttnick…if it is Bohemian…count me in!!

20 07 2014

Muttnik is a stray. She lives on the streets of Moscow, cold and hungry until one day she is captured. To her surprise she finds herself in a new home with food, water and adventures better than dreams; she is living at the Russian Space centre and is to become the first dog in space!

P.S. Always wondering why some people like Murph take the time to post senseless comments.

P.S.P.S. blbec !!!

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