Roncesvalles ’iconic Polish bakery closed its doors on December 31. But there’s a chance the business could be re-booted somewhere in the southwestern part of the city.
They’ve baked scones for Sharon Stone and bread for Pope John Paul II. But after nearly 40 years of business, Granwoska’s bakery on Roncesvalles shut its doors on December 31.
Kathy Klodas, the manager, didn’t have anything planned for the bakery’s final day except to “try and sell everything off the shelves as usual” and maybe share a bottle of champagne with her family. Her mother Elizabeth opened the bakery with Kathy’s grandma, Maria Granowska, in 1972. And at 74, Elizabeth is ready to retire.
When asked why she thinks the bakery has been a mainstay on Roncesvalles for so long, Kathy turns the question to her mother, who is busy slicing deli meat behind the counter.
Elizabeth clips her answer with a wave of the hand: “The product is high quality. That’s it.”
The original Granowska’s was in the family’s hometown of Łódź, Poland, and specialized in ice cream and pastries like rurki, cylinders made from wafers and filled with cream. After moving to Canada in the early 1970s, Maria and Elizabeth planned on reviving Granowska’s. And on June 13, 1972, after baking for three days straight, they opened the bakery on Roncesvalles at Fern Ave. They sold out within hours of opening.
Kathy points out that when the bakery opened Toronto grocery stores still mainly stocked Wonder bread—the rye bread and pumpernickel many immigrants were accustomed to in the old country were nowhere to be found. And though they did bake bread during their early years, it was Granowska’s pastries that proved to be hugely popular among ex-pats hungry for a taste of home.
Rye bread is no longer a rarity on grocery shelves, but some Polish specialties are a little harder to find in the GTA. Danuta and Stan Waligora live in Vaughan, where there are a few Polish grocery stores nearby, but their supply of pastries tend to be paltry. About twice a year, they visit the Credit Union on Roncesvalles and later stop in at Granowska’s for a treat. They compare it to a more European way of life of hanging out in small, local cafes with baked goods prepared on site.
“Here you have the atmosphere,” Danuta says. “You feel like home.”
Danuta and Stan learn about the bakery closing after they’d sat down at a table with a coffee and plum butter-filled pączek each.
Danuta jokes that she’s going to cry. “I’m really disappointed. Could you imagine? No Granowska’s anymore!”
Kathy has heard similar things from her regulars and says the closing is bittersweet.
“They’re all crying. They keep saying, where are we going to go now? Where are we going to hang out?”
But Elizabeth is ready to retire, travel and see more of family. If Kathy were to take over the bakery, she believes her mother would continue to come in regularly (she often comes in at 4 a.m. even on her days off). Selling the building and the business is the only way to ensure she truly retires.
The bakery’s closing is based on Elizabeth’s retirement and independent of the construction drama that plagued Roncesvalles for the past few summers. Kathy says business has been steady, but they have lost a number of customers who kept away while the street was split up and have now fallen into the habit of shopping elsewhere.
They still have their regulars. Kathy says they see a number of locals, but a large contingent of customers come as far as Mississauga and further suburbs. On the afternoon before Granowksa’s last day, the customers are mostly grey-haired and Polish-speaking. The street still has the Polish Credit Union, the Polish-Canadian retirement home Copernicus Lodge, and delis like Super Kolbasa, but it’s hard to ignore the changing demographics of the area. Roncesvalles is seeing younger families move in and the area becoming more diverse.
“It’s for the best. I’m for progress. It’s about time we’ve changed too,” Kathy says.
On the eve of the bakery’s last day, the bakery is still buzzing with activity. At the tables by the window, customers fuss over copies of Polish newspapers, sip coffee from glass mugs and dig into powdered pastries. A steady supply of patrons tap on the display cases, ordering boxes of cookies, poppy seed rolls and pączki, the jam-filled donuts that have kept the bakery in business for just under forty years.
Though she insists she doesn’t have any concrete plans after New Year’s Day, Kathy says she’s considering re-booting the business somewhere in the southwestern part of the city, Mimico, or even beyond in Mississauga or Oakville.
Though her regulars complain about no longer having a place to meet over a coffee and pączek, many may end up visiting a new Granowska’s closer to home if Kathy re-builds the business in the suburbs.
“As great of a neighbourhood as it is, it’s time to change. Both for the street and ourselves,” she says. “We need a new view.”