Derek Kedzierski wasn’t tipped off to the success of St. Joseph’s Bakery by the loyal following it developed over decades of his family’s hard work.
The ‘Ah-ha’ moment came instead when Derek googled St. Joseph’s Bakery and found it on Wikipedia as a character in the story of St. Catharines’ historic Facer District.
“I thought ‘Oh my God, we made it,’ ” Derek recalled with a laugh. “We’ve always had a role on Facer.”
That place of prominence in the north St. Catharines neighbourhood affectionately referred to as the Deli District for its meat counters filled with European sausages, cold cuts and ready-made foods started in 1963 when Derek’s grandfather, Michael, who immigrated from Poland, and his father, Joe, bought a flagging Italian bakery on the corner of Facer and Ormonde Avenue.
St. Joseph’s Bakery is the destination for a taste of continental Europe in St. Catharines. St. Joseph’s is part of our Taste the World in STC global culinary tour right here in our own backyard. Learn more about Taste the World in STC and your chance to win a $500 STC dining package.
Michael worked other jobs to keep the venture afloat, but it was to no avail. The Kedzierskis decided to sell the bakery to their business partners after a few years.
“They couldn’t turn a dollar, really,” Derek recalled.
Still, there was something about the place that Joe couldn’t quit. When he married Derek’s mom, Barbara, the couple decided to use their wedding money to buy St. Joseph’s back.
Success came with Joe heeding the quiet knocks of opportunity. Take the sausage maker who suggested Joe start selling his wares alongside the French, Italian and rye loaves he was baking daily.
Joe ordered 10 pounds and sold out in a day. St. Joseph’s deli counter, still an anchor in the store today, was born in that moment.
Next, he started importing products to sate the old country cravings of the neighbourhood’s immigrant residents.
Baking bread also expanded to patisserie offerings. Pierogis became a St. Joseph’s calling card when two women were hired to make them by hand. These days a machine turns out 100 pierogis a minute to keep up with demand for the Polish dumplings.
Growth happened organically, one sausage, one tube of German mustard, one loaf of bread at a time.
Taking new opportunities as they come remains Derek’s MO today, and kee ps St. Joseph’s the destination for a taste of continental Europe in St. Catharines.
“This neighbourhood was entrenched in its European roots and Black roots. It was feeding the community and that’s what led to the bakery’s success,” Derek said. “The bakery is constantly evolving. We don’t have a business plan. If there’s a customer demand, we feed it.”
It’s also a place to practise ordering paczki in Polish, Landjäger in German, and hearing Ukrainian and Russian dialects as people shop. Staff at St. Joseph’s are proficient in at least one of those languages, and shelves are stocked with items from each country.
It’s the kind of store Derek, himself, likes to visit when he travels.
“It’s important to have that appeal to people. You’re a destination, you’re something unique and it’s a different experience for customers all around,” he said. “I love that. It’s a great part of human interaction to find those gems.”
Still, it wasn’t Joe’s dream that his son take over the bakery. In fact, the elder Kedzierski encouraged his children to do something — anything — different.
Derek listened, studying computer engineering and earning his tool and dye papers. But it didn’t make sense to him to work long hours for someone else’s success.
He wanted to continue building the bakery with his family. That opening came in an unfortunate way during a family trip to Vancouver. Joe collapsed after getting off the flight to the West Coast. He would need help running the bakery going forward.
Derek stepped in working from the ground up —literally getting his start by sweeping the floors. He eventually proved he was a natural baker when he took one look at a bread recipe that produced leftover dough and tweaked it to make the perfect amount.
Joe still insisted on making the trek to work each day, riding with Derek every morning at 6 a.m. until his death in 2016.
These days, St. Joseph’s is more than a neighbourhood bakery. It contributes to the annual Facer Festival street party, donates food to those in need, bakes bread for other commercial operations, and continues carving its place in St. Catharines’ food story.
“The store is different for every customer. Some are here for the pierogis and cabbage rolls. Others for the Thomy mustard,” Derek said. “I can’t even say what most people are coming for. It’s so many different things.”