In 1954, Wolodymyr and Olha Darmochwal opened a newsstand and candy store in the area largely inhabited by Ukrainians in New York’s lower East Side called Veselka.
A hangout for many Ukrainians who lived there, the reputation of this small cafe grew far outside the community’s confines.
In 1975, Wolodymyr died and his son-in-law, Tom Birchard, took over management of the restaurant. Veselka’s popularity became so widespread that in November, Birchard opened a second restaurant, called Veselka Bowery, not far from the original eatery.
In 2009, Birchard published a cookbook featuring some of Veselka’s most popular recipes.
“The Veselka Cookbook” contains more than 150 recipes, covering Ukrainian classics to sandwiches (one is named after Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, and another after actress Milla Jovovich), to breakfast fare, as well as a section that highlights Christmas foods.
In addition, the book provides a glimpse of how the Ukrainian neighborhood has changed over the decades.
The popularity of Veselka restaurant in New York translated into a network of eateries and a cookbook. (Courtesy)
There are the stories of Julian Baczynsky, the butcher who supplies Veselka with 200 pounds of smoked pork-and-beef kielbasa weekly, the four women who spend their days making the restaurant’s trademark pyrohy, or dumplings, and a walking tour of the area.
In pondering the changes that have occurred at Veselka and the neighborhood, Birchard wrote: “What would amaze Wolodymyr most is that the restaurant is open 24 hours a day now, and is almost always crowded.
When the original Veselka had even a half-dozen customers, he’d grow jittery and nervous and start moving around very briskly.
Now a ‘busy day’ means we’ve served over 1,000 people. I think he’d be proud to see what a success Veselka is, and I know he’d be very pleased that we still have plenty of Ukrainian specialties on the menu. He took his Ukrainian heritage very seriously, and I’m pleased, too, that we’re able to carry on that tradition.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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