One should never underestimate the power of kolaches. When the fertilizer plant in West exploded a couple of weeks ago, for many, the soft round pastry that put West on the map sprung quickly to mind as a way to raise money to help the blast's victims.
Last weekend, when a few local restaurants and bars collaborated to host a fundraiser at the AT&T Arts Center, Josh Florence of City Tavern drove to West that morning to retrieve kolaches to sell at the event. Along with an impressive local music set, more than $30,000 was raised for the residents of West. And, in Arlington, Burgers for West (hosted by Chop House Steak and Seafood) pulled in $10,400.
This week I spoke with Michelle Wolf at West's very own Czech Stop, which has built a kolache empire. The small shop that sits aside Interstate 35 constantly overflows with travelers collecting kolaches by the boxful. Wolf said since the accident they've received donations from customers every day. Currently, she estimates customers have given upward of $50,000.
I was a little more surprised to spot an article in our sister publication, the Village Voice in New York City, about a kolache fundraiser in Brooklyn: "Kolaches and Shiner Bock: A Benefit in Brooklyn for West, Texas."
I tracked down the baker responsible for the NYC kolaches. Autumn Stanford is an Austin native and moved north for work, but in 2011 traded all that in to open the Brooklyn Kolache Co.
"Growing up Austin, we had family in Houston," Stanford said, "so we drove through La Grange all the time and we always stopped at Weikel's Bakery for kolaches."
Weikel's, in the heart of Central Texas, is the east and west equivalent to the Czech Stop's north and south route between Dallas and Austin.
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Now Stanford's pastries are a siren call for misplaced Texans on the weekends.
"We stay pretty busy with the neighborhood customers during the week," Stanford said, "but on the weekends, people make a pilgrimage. They come from all over. And it's funny, they stand in line and all talk about what part of Texas they lived in and where they use to eat kolaches."
Last weekend Stanford partnered with an organization called Texpats, a collection of boot-wearin', cowboy-hat-tippin' Texans who cry in their beer together and reminisce about how much they miss saying "y'all" without getting glared at. (Like "yous guys" is much better?) Together they gathered at the small bakery and sipped Shiner Bock, which is just now available in NYC, while nibbling on the traditional Czech fruit-filled pastries.
According to the Texpats site, they raised almost $3,500, all of which went to Pointwest Bank in West. The power of the kolache is verified. And so is the kindness of people everywhere.