It won’t be long before Buffalo has another distinct culinary destination on its hands. I got a chance to check out the Ru’s Pierogi operation at 295 Niagara Street a few days ago. Now, when I say “operation”, I mean operation. Very few people understand just how elaborate the production facility is at Ru’s, not to mention the full blown restaurant and food truck concept that the team is embarking upon currently.
Ru’s food truck will be the first Ru’s retail component to hit the road. The truck will be making its inaugural appearance at the Bills’ home opener. If you’re heading to the game, they will be parked at the infamous Bills Mafia house at 60 Fay Street*. Stop by and try out some of their best selling pierogi and get fueled up for the game.
Next up will be the opening of Ru’s restaurant on Niagara. The bar and eatery boasts an authentic, rustic-meets-industrial look, complete with a dining area, and a bar. There’s also an open kitchen where you can see the pierogi getting cooked up. Many of the original architectural design components of the building were salvaged and reused, adding a fine authenticity to the space.
Co-owners Zack Schneider (lead photo left) and Andy Ruszczyk have done a bang up job with the operation. It was interesting to find out that the two have been palling around since kindergarten. “We were thrown together,” set Zack, quite literally. “His last name begins with ‘R’ and mine is with an ‘S’, so we were seated next to each other for years and years. It’s a great way to get to know somebody.”
Zack, you might say, is a jack of all trades – a guy who constantly exploring ways to be inventive in Buffalo. It was Andy who first got the pierogi bug. Each Christmas his grandmother would cook up the delicious sour dough pockets. Seeing that his grandmother was getting older his family suggested that he help her in the kitchen and learn the recipe. That was the day that his life changed. Once he learned the trick of the trade, he began to make pierogi for family and friends. Then, one day he took some into the bar where he was working at the time. A bunch of customers tasted the creation and by the end of his shift he had 30 orders written in a napkin and tucked into his pocket. It was at that point that Andy realized he might have a little more than a hobby on his hands. Little did he know exactly how big his hobby would become.
The growth of Andy’s side interest began when Zack reached out and asked him if he was interested in turning the hobby into a full fledged business operation. Andy agreed, and the two once again found each other sitting side by side working on plans to take over the pierogi world. It was only after walking through their pierogi plant on Niagara Street that I truly understood just how serious these guys were about their pierogi plans. Last week they made 19000 pierogi by hand. Actually, refugees from Journey’s End were the real heroes, as they meticulously filled and rolled each pocket.
To fully understand how Zack and Andy got to the point of preparing so many pierogi, we must take a look at the marketing and sales effort that the two embarked upon. It all started with Andy making the pierogi out of his kitchen. “That didn’t last long,” said Andy. “My wife would come home to find the kitchen covered in flour every day.” As the orders began to escalate, Zack and Andy leased a commissary kitchen. It was at that point that they began to get serious about the sales. They attended Wing Fest in 2014, selling 10,000 pierogi in two days at 2 bucks a pop. They also came away with an award for best new product. Then they began to throw the Pints and Pierogi events at The Marcy Casino. With crowds of 600 people showing up, clamoring to get a taste of the Americanized delicacy, the caterers at the casino, Jason Davidson and Mike Shatzel, decided that they needed to get the pierogi on the menus of their respective restaurants – Liberty Hound and Blue Monk. Today Liberty Hound sells 120 pounds of pierogi a week.
As sales mounted, Zack and Andy figured that they needed to do a few different things to keep up and capitalize on their successes. First, they began to scale the business, purchasing new equipment that would allow them to crank out the pierogi (although they were still being filled and rolled by hand). They also set their sights on opening their own restaurant and bar. Today they have 6000 square feet of production floor, with room to grow. Plus, they are awaiting delivery of machines that will allow them to automate much of the production (no more making pierogi by hand). But don’t worry – they are not letting any staff go. Instead they are continuing to hire. They even brought a few new partners on board, one of whom was a plant manager at Rich Products.
Now the circa 1853 former sarsaparilla bottling plant is home to an giant pierogi plant that appears to be growing at breakneck speed. Zack told me that they have a couple of major deals in the works that will warrant every new automated machine that rolls into the building – not to mention the spike in production that will come from the restaurant and food truck.
If you’re wondering how Zack and Andy have managed to do so much in such little time, they attribute it all to the original recipe that Andy took the time to learn. They also attribute it to the delectable flavor creations that Andy continues to roll out, such as Buffalo Chicken Wing, Apple Cinnamon and Cherry Cheesecake, Banana Pepper and Cheese, Sauerkraut with Kielbasa and Bacon, BBQ Pulled Pork, Roasted Red Pepper and Blue Crab with Garlic and Chives, Bacon Cheeseburger, BBQ turkey burger… and the Rustic Parm.
It won’t be long before all of Buffalo will be able to try out these awesome pierogi at the new restaurant. Guests will also be happy to find 12 local beers on tap, wine, a sake Bloody Mary, and stone fruit sangria. Ru’s will be open for lunch and dinner, with an opening date within a month’s time. “We think we have a hit on our hands,” Zack and Andy told me. “People love this portable food, made with delicious fillings that are easy to dip, easy to eat, and easy to manipulate into more complex recipes. We put them on salads, in hoagie rolls, or serve them as they are. We also sell them to other chefs who then make their own creations with them. All of the recipes have been validated and speed tested. We’re constantly playing around with recipes, to see what we can do next. In the end, if there’s one thing that we have learned, it’s to never underestimate the power of the pierogi.
*Buffalo Bills versus the New York Jets 2016 season home opener game on Thursday, September 15, which is also being televised on CBS. The food truck will be parked on a private residence at 60 Fay Street in Orchard Park, off Abbott Road and directly behind the south side of the newly-named New Era Field. Ru’s Pierogi food truck will start serving at approximately 3:30 p.m., allowing game attendees plenty of time to pop the palatable pasta pillows prior to kickoff at 8:25 p.m.
Prices for the food truck menu items range from $6.50 for three pierogi and fries (the apple-filled pierogi, a dessert, is $5) to $11 for the Ru Burger: an eight-ounce turkey burger roasted in homemade tomato barbeque sauce and topped with peppers and onions, served with fries. Salads, sides and non-alcoholic drinks (Johnnie Ryan beverages, tea, juice, milk and sparkling water) round out the food truck offerings. The truck accepts cash and all credit cards as forms of payment, and has plans to be at several events this autumn.