Perogies just like Baba used to make

Garson company goes for the homemade touch


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GARSON -- The perogies you buy in stores today are usually machine-made, with flour sprinkled on the dough during production to prevent it from sticking to the metal.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/03/2015 (2806 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GARSON — The perogies you buy in stores today are usually machine-made, with flour sprinkled on the dough during production to prevent it from sticking to the metal.

But that makes the dough tough. “You could open it, take out the filling, and use the rest for a change purse,” said Lawrence Porhownik, who has been eating perogies for most of his 75 years.

That was the genesis of a perogy company started in Garson, 35 kilometres east of Winnipeg. Five investors, including Porhownik, wanted to make machine-made perogies to match the homemade, hand-pinched ones their moms and babas made.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Lawrence Porhownik (right) and James Aitkenhead display some of the perogies made in Garson.

The result is Perfect Pierogies, run out of a former schoolhouse in Garson since 2006, that has seen its sales grow every year — including a 37 per cent hike last year.

They are gearing up for their second-busiest season: Easter. But they are also in the midst of launching a new chili pepper perogy made with chili pepper jack from Bothwell Cheese.

That’s in addition to their regular selection: potato cheddar, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, as well as a Greek perogy with feta and spinach.

With their wider border, the perogies don’t open up in the deep fryer and spoil the oil, which costs $40 a pail.

For 42 years, Porhownik ran the Garson Grocery, including the time when the government rerouted Highway 44 out of Garson, costing him half his business.

The problem, said Porhownik, is the perogy of his youth — pinched by hand and therefore having a thinner, more tender dough — was getting tougher to find.

“The church volunteers are all 80 to 85 years old, and they made the best ones. That’s all disappearing,” he said.

He set out looking for a fresh, homemade perogy.

“The only kind I like are cottage cheese perogies,” which are not so readily available.

He couldn’t find anything to his satisfaction.

Then he sampled a perogy from the private stash of Carol Aitkenhead, who runs Ludwick Catering, in Birds Hill, “where the ladies still hand-pinch the perogies.”

Perfect Pierogies was born, or at least conceived. (The company uses an the older, Ukrainian-Polish spelling for perogy.)

Porhownik, Aitkenhead, her mother, Rose Ludwick, and Joel Cote, owner of Sanco Construction (plus another partner who is no longer with Perfect Pierogies) formed a partnership. They put in $25,000 each and borrowed the rest.

They found a machine in New York that, with modifications, could make their perogies the way they liked them. They even took Canadian flour to New York to test the machine. Canadian flour is internationally acknowledged as superior to American brands because of our stricter wheat grades.

Perfect Pierogies promotes itself as a premium product, with a price tag almost double that of regular perogies.

A high-end perogy sounds like an oxymoron. Haven’t perogies escaped out the back door of the Ukrainian kitchen to become a popular comfort food found everywhere from burger stands to food carts to beverage rooms?

But Perfect Pierogies uses exclusively award-winning Bothwell cheese in its fillings. Nor does the food company use potato flakes like many store-shelf perogies, which Porhownik said is basically potatoes with whey, like instant potatoes. It uses whole potatoes, onions, etc. Most of its ingredients are produced in Manitoba.

The company is still small, selling about 1.3 million perogies last year. By comparison, Cheemo Perogies, out of Edmonton, the largest perogy-maker in the country, makes that many perogies in a day.

“We’re after a different segment of the market,” said Porhownik.

And its sales are growing. Perfect Pierogies also provides 14 jobs in Garson for people who don’t want to commute to Winnipeg. It turns profits, but investors keep sinking them back into the company. Plans are in the works to construct a new plant within a couple years at an industrial park planned for the area.

Its perogies are sold fresh, not frozen, in Sobeys outlets from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Saskatoon, Red River Co-op stores and some Safeway stores outside Winnipeg. They are distributed by Cisco Canada and Pratts Wholesale.

They have proven popular at food stands, including Sonia’s Stand at Lockport, Robin’s Drive In near Beausejour and the Snack Shack in Selkirk.

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