Sometimes, success comes fast, and that has its own challenges. When Dominika Mills and Zachary Short spoke with the Colorado Springs Business Journal, it was during a day’s delivery run, with Mills and Short handing the conversation off as they drove and ran dumplings to doorsteps. They opened Mika’s Pierogi Kitchen in late October and, within a week and a half, found themselves making and delivering hundreds of pierogi a day.
“Yesterday, we both worked over a 20-hour day,” said Short. “We barely got four hours of sleep just trying to try to keep up with the orders. They’re nonstop.”
Mills is originally from a small town outside of Krakow, Poland. She came to Monument in 2003 to work as an au pair and attend school, eventually taking classes at Pikes Peak Community College. Short was born in Oregon and is an Army veteran, though unlike many Army vets in the Springs, he was never stationed at Fort Carson. He moved to Colorado in 2014, and he met and married Mills here.
What made you two decide to start selling pierogi?
Dominika Mills: I am originally from Poland and pierogi are Polish dumplings, so it’s a tradition for me, and something that we all enjoy eating. And honestly one day, we thought, ‘My gosh, why don’t we just sell those?’ It just comes from where I come from, an idea from home.
How many varieties do you offer?
DM: Currently, we are offering five different flavors, but there are, oh my goodness, endless opportunities and endless ideas to make these. We do make custom ones as well and try to cater to everyone’s palates. Right now, we are selling potato and cheese, the traditional pierogi, which is Russian style, or Ruskie. That’s how we would call it in Polish. We sell a meat one, barbecue beef, we named that one Cowboy. You’ve got a buffalo chicken ranch jalapeno, that’s the Redneck Special pierogi. Yeah, very cute. We’ve got the dessert one, which is sweet berries, a variation of blueberry and strawberry served with whipped cream, honey drizzle. Just recently, we added a sauerkraut one, which is another traditional one. We also have a Greek special, and that’s feta and spinach. Yeah, super yummy.
So you’re not just sticking to the traditional fillings?
DM: No, we’re trying to cater to the American audience, if I may say so. Not everyone likes onions. You know, not everyone likes just potato. Lots of guys want meat ... and people want spicy food. So we’re trying to combine more than one cuisine in those little dumplings.
It sounds like the response has been pretty solid for your first two weeks.
DM: Yes, absolutely. We’ve been super busy. We did not expect to get this busy this quickly. We’re very happy and excited, but overwhelmed, too. We feel like it’s time to grow and hire people and get a bigger location.
Zachary Short: Just to give you an idea about how much pierogi we’re moving, monetary wise, we’re selling over $500 worth of pierogi every single day. And for a mom-and-pop shop, that’s actually a lot. That’s about 500 pierogi individually a day that we’re making and moving. … We’re barely hitting the tip of the iceberg with our audiences in terms of how many people we’ve served, versus how many potential customers we have out there. People are interested because it’s something different. If you drive down Academy [Boulevard] or Powers [Boulevard], all the restaurants you see, [they’re] either going to be tacos, Italian food or burgers. Maybe Chinese as well. ... So we strive to do something a little bit different and offer something that’s just a little bit more variety for a city that’s already very cultured and diversified, I would say.
Are you operating out of a home kitchen?
ZS: So right now, we’re just operating out of a commissary kitchen on Academy and Drennan [boulevards]. We’re sharing it with another business. ... So we unfortunately can’t do pickup right now just yet, but we are going to be getting a trailer within the next week and parking it in front of that location, in front of our commissary kitchen. ... Then that way, people can come and pick up their deliveries directly. So we will be offering delivery and pickup.
Were there COVID considerations regarding the business?
DM: I feel like we’re catering to anyone affected by COVID by giving free delivery, reasonable prices, unique novelty kind of food, [and] making relationships with people. I’m finding a lot of Polish people here in the area, which is really cute and neat.
It’s really nice to make new friends and put smiles on people’s faces while delivering really traditional, crafty, handmade food. … With restaurants closing, the delivery has just been so popular. People are really about it. So that has been working in our favor, to be honest. Right now we only have one vehicle, so it’s hard, but we’re making it work.
How long was this company in the works before you were able to start?
ZS: We had the idea two years ago, and that’s when we started [throwing] it around, and then coming up with ideas and starting to make them here and there. So that was passively working on it, but actively as in trying to put together the application and actively working on it, probably about the last six months is what it took to kind of get all the ducks lined up and all the paperwork [together]. And it’s a lot. It’s a tall order
Do you both have jobs on top of this?
ZS: I actually recently had to put in my two-week notice for the job that I have been doing — I work in construction and do high-end painting, and I actually had to quit that in order to make time to help with the orders. We’re just inundated every day, like I said. … We put out a Facebook-sponsored ad for one of the posts [on our page] that really helped boost us, and today, I had to shut it off altogether to give us a break from the order after order after order so we can get caught up and reorganize between now and when we do pick-up orders out of our food trailer.
What are some of your goals with your business?
DM: All the way to the top. A chain restaurant? I mean, yeah, all the way to the top. As far as we can take it.
ZS: What we really envision is the first national European cuisine chain. Obviously, you have national pizza chains and burger chains, but we want a national pierogi chain, and it would be called The Pierogi Bar by Mika’s Kitchen. Instead of going to get wings, where you can choose 20 different types of wings like you can at some places, you can mix and match 20 different types of pierogi. We’re going to keep adding different flavors, and you can even make custom ones. ... There’ll be different European and Polish sides as well. [It’ll be] more [upscale], but also family-friendly. … This is kind of where we want to take it, ultimately, just because we see the niche in the market for it.
How are you balancing meeting demand without overextending yourselves?
ZS: You know, that’s the question isn’t it? … We’re just going to take it one day at a time. We set proper expectations with all of our customers, all of our patrons. … We are currently taking orders for next Wednesday already. We’re just loading up the days with deliveries, and there are only so many that, with one driver, we can get to in one day. ... So we’re just setting the proper expectations and … communicating with them.
ZS: I think people are OK with [ordering in advance by] a day or two, or even a week. I’m getting requests for Christmas and Thanksgiving. A lot of these families are familiar with pierogi as a time-consuming product … so they know. The Polish family that I have so far cooked for, they all said, ‘Oh my gosh, [pierogi] are so time consuming. I will never [make them at home] again. I will just call Mika’s kitchen.’