COLUMBIA — A new cafe is opening this week, primed to serve pierogies, Ukrainian borscht, sandwiches, pastries and espresso at its 807 Locust St. location.
Cafe Poland is gearing up for an opening as early as Thursday, said Iwona Galijska, who will run the place with her son, Robert Burlinski. The tiny space was most recently occupied by Carpe Diem, which offered lessons in music, art and literature until November 2010.
Galijska and Burlinski have placed small tables behind the two big windows in front, a coffee bar in the center and a kitchen in the back. A counter will hold pastries and sandwiches, and seating looks to accommodate between a dozen or so diners.
The food will be familiar to anyone with connections to Central and Eastern Europe. Borscht is the classic beet soup that has fed Ukrainians and Russians for centuries. Pierogies (often spelled pirogis) — semicircular meat- or vegetable-stuffed dumplings — are a staple in the Eastern European diet. Cafe Poland's version will be filled with cabbage, sauerkraut, meat and potatoes.
"It’s just simple food, with simple ingredients," Burlinski said. "Polish food doesn’t have a lot of spices, just salt and pepper."
He and his mother plan to open early for the coffee crowd.
"Early morning, like a coffee shop is supposed to be," Galijska said.
A little under 15 years ago, the family owned a large farm in Modliny, Poland, near the Baltic Sea. They produced grains and meat; the farm housed cows, pigs, one horse and one goat.
When a disabled family member living in Alaska needed to be taken care of in 2000, the family made a sudden move to Anchorage.
"It was a big surprise for us when we had to quit," Galijska said.
In Anchorage, Burlinski studied business management and opened a small Polish restaurant with Galijska called Tolonia near Elmendorf Air Force Base. When the soldiers living on the base were deployed to Iraq in 2006, Burlinski said the surrounding economy suffered.
"When the soldiers left, almost the whole street closed their businesses," Galijska said. "It was a very hard time for us."
The two filed for bankruptcy shortly afterward and moved from Anchorage to Austin, Texas.
"Austin has its own thing, not comparable to other cities," Galijska said. "The city is just living on style."
Burlinski planned to attend the University of Texas, but high tuition costs and job scarcity prevented him from enrolling. Then there was the car.
"Two car accidents in two weeks," he said. "We got our car fixed at the car place, and when we got on the street, we got in another accident."
"It’s some stupid things," Galijska said. "Crazy drivers."
The family wanted to move next to a town where they could start another restaurant and Burlinski could continue his studies. Columbia College had a phlebotomy course he was interested in, and Galijska decided the city had more political balance than Texas.
Starting another restaurant, though, was initially difficult. With bankruptcy in their past, getting even the smallest loan was impossible. Burlinski and Galijska saved their own money for more than a year and a half to start Cafe Poland.
"We started from scratch; this place was just a box without anything," Galijska said.
The two are used to working together inside a restaurant. Although working with family has its own set of difficulties, Galijska said, it’s mostly good.
“Everyone has to sacrifice everything if you’re working with family,” she said. “I will sacrifice everything to help run this.”
Supervising editor isJeanne Abbott.