By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – In a small but clearly efficient kitchen, a group of people work with a machine-like precision with one goal: making pierogi.
Not just a few pierogi for dinner, but on the average, according to owner Ronald Bonafilia, the staff at Babci’s Specialty Foods produces 1,200 dozen a week for sale throughout Western Massachusetts. During the Christmas season, that figure can jump to 7,000 dozen a week.
Bonafilia admitted there is “a lot of competition” in this food category but maintained that while another well-known pierogi producer in the city, Millie’s Pierogi makes more, his product is the best.
“And I’m sure they would say the same thing about theirs,” he said with a smile.
Babci does describe itself as the “New England’s largest producer of authentic Polish food” as it produces not only a wide assortment of pierogi, but also the traditional cabbage soup called kapusta and golumpkis. The pierogis and kapusta are on sale in grocery stores, but the golumpkis are available only at the store at 193 Fairview Ave.
Bonafilia said the hand-made pierogis are better when compared to those made by machine.
“It takes a while to do this, but customers say it is the best,” he said.
He explained the machines used to make pierogis must use fillings that have a more paste-like consistency, which changes the taste and texture of the food.
In one area of the room the dough is prepared for the dumplings while in another the portions of filling – today is cabbage – are measured. Two people sit at a table and carefully but quickly place the dough in a plastic crimping device and add the filling and press the handle together to form the pierogi.
They then are boiled and placed on trays to cool. Once cooled, they are placed into a walk-in refrigerator.
Bonafilia said he and his wife Pamella had wanted to own a business when in 2004 Babci’s came up for sale. Bonafilia said his wife’s grandfather had initially owned the building and food business itself from 1911 through 1957.
Bonafilia’s line of pierogi includes potato and cheese, cabbage, cheese and sauerkraut and mushroom. During the holidays they will also offer fruit pierogis such as blueberry, apple and prune.
He takes pride in not only making the products from authentic recipes but also by using locally grown potatoes and cabbage from Hatfield.
In the summer months, the building also becomes an ice cream shop and deli.
Polish food is his year-round business, though, and Bonafilia delivers his products weekly to grocery stores including 54 of the 66 Big Y locations as well as many Stop and Shops.
For more about the business, go to www.babcisfoods.com