This Tampa Bay kitchen aims to champion Ukrainian culture with pierogi

Daryna Voloshyn rolled out dough on her kitchen counter and cut it into a cylinder shape.

She filled each with potatoes, cheese or a combination of the two before folding them into the Slavic dumpling known as pierogi. She would make about 2,000 savory treats by the end of the day. Normally, she would earn that much in a week.

Orders have been pouring in steadily since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the St Petersburg community wanted to show their support, said Voloshyn, 28, owner of Pierogi Bar.

Pierogi Bar is a cottage kitchen, which means it operates from a home. There are strict rules about selling food from a home kitchen in Florida. The health department requires a home kitchen to use no meat, food delivery must be in person only (not through a service like UberEats), and bans freezer stock. But Voloshyn said she didn’t care about the inconvenience.

“Everything is made from scratch,” Voloshyn said. “It’s really time consuming. But it’s something I love doing because I love sharing my culture.

The past week has been stressful for her family, Voloshyn said, as she balances the rush of orders while checking the news and waiting to hear from friends still in Ukraine. She could not get in touch with some of them.

Voloshyn is from Lviv, a city in western Ukraine about 80 km from the border with Poland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has since become a haven for people fleeing fighting in Kyiv and the east of the country since Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of the nation on February 24. Her father Roman and mother Ulyana fled to the Tampa Bay area as a refugee in 2002 when she was 9 years old.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine struggled with corruption.

“The communists didn’t want to give up yet,” said Roman Voloshyn. “There was free speech, but you could have consequences.”

They came to America for freedom and opportunity, he said, and St. Petersburg has a much nicer climate than Eastern Europe.

Daryna Voloshyn started Pierogi Bar a year ago after friends asked her to make more pierogi and borscht. His mother and father help with the kitchen, website and finances. Since then, she has used her business as a way to educate people about Ukrainian cuisine.

There is not much consensus on the origin of the pierogi. The batter-coated delicacy is a universal dish similar to Italian dumplings or Chinese dumplings. Many people may know pierogi as a Polish dish, but Ukraine played an important role in spreading dumplings across the world, Roman Voloshyn says. Ukrainians also call them “varenyky”.

“Did he travel from China via Ukraine or did he travel to China via Ukraine? The dispute is still there, but Ukraine was the highway between Europe and Asia,” said Roman Voloshyn.

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For a long time Daryna Voloshyn said that people would confuse Ukrainians with Russians. Now she hopes people will appreciate and protect Ukrainian culture.

“Do you really know what that means? I think the best way to prove it or show it to them is through food,” she said.

The owner of Pierogi Bar in St. Petersburg, Daryna Voloshyn, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.
The owner of Pierogi Bar in St. Petersburg, Daryna Voloshyn, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. [ AYA DIAB | Times ]

Each Slavic family has its own dough recipe and preference for fillings. Daryna Voloshyn uses the recipe passed down from generation to generation by her family, with fillings of potatoes, cheese, mushrooms, sauerkraut and cherry. She also sells hash browns and Ukrainian borscht, a beetroot soup. Now she’s looking to expand to a physical restaurant with more options, including meat, but it’s been difficult.

Saint Petersburg is becoming more and more expensive, especially in the city center. A rental application was turned down because the owners didn’t think their business could work, she said.

“There are all these Chinese, Italian, Korean, Burger King, McDonald’s and all these types of restaurants. But I don’t even know anyone in the region who is Ukrainian,” Daryna Voloshyn said. “We have been here for centuries. And no one has opened a restaurant?

As the war continues in Ukraine, her brother works to create a non-profit organization to help send doctors to treat injured civilians and rebuild the country when the fighting stops. Daryna Voloshyn will use 10% of Pierogi Bar sales to help her brother’s project. She said she appreciates the support she has received lately and hopes it doesn’t slow down.

“I just want to put my culture out there,” she said. “And show people, hey, this is what I’m made of.”

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