By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — They finally found the pussy willows.
The weather simply has not been cooperating so there was some concern that the traditional branches used by girls to gently swat the boys during Dyngus Day celebrations might not make it to the party planned for Monday at the Polish Nook.
But, some kind person has offered to donate the branches and so tradition will be fully served as the restaurant holds its popular post-Easter party, including live Polish music and a buffet of Polish foods from pierogi to pork chops.
A great many things have changed at the restaurant since it opened its doors in 1969. But, one thing that seems to be fully restored lately is the family’s commitment to keeping the restaurant running on its corner of Cudaback Avenue and 24th Street.
Fortified by the grandchildren of the restaurant founders, Stanley and Stella Kajfasz, the Polish Nook has found new life, and after many years of being open only on Friday and for special events, the restaurant has been serving dinners four days a week since 2009, led by the couple’s oldest child, Kathy Kajfasz.
Kathy grew up in LaSalle where her family owned the Pelican Motel on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Family history goes back as far as her own grandfather, who once owned a meat store on the location of the restaurant.
The oldest of five children, Kathy is a certified public accountant in Buffalo. It was never in her life plan to run the restaurant. After her father died in 2000, her mother, Stella, ran the the kitchen quite capably. But, a few years ago, Stella was diagnosed with dementia and began to need around-the-clock care. Her daughter kept the restaurant going as best she could, bringing her mom to the Nook most days. “She was happy here. And she wanted to keep working.”
But, her mother’s daily care was beginning to take its toll. Kathy began to think about closing the doors to the popular Polish landmark.
“I was sitting one day and thought ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” she said.
By coincidence, a man came into her office that day. He was a friend of John Prozeralik, the former owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Niagara Falls, John’s Flaming Hearth.
When she heard that day that Prozeralik had too much time on his hands, she told the friend to have Prozeralik call her. “I thought he could just come to the restaurant and hang out,” she said.
Instead, Prozeralik revived her appreciation for the business. “He started doing the work I had been doing. He started fixing everything,” she said. “He said to me, ‘do you know what you’ve got here? You’ve got calls coming in like crazy.’”
Prozeralik started making his famous pumpkin ice cream pie, and convinced her to reopen the restaurant four days a week. Now 88, he’s not involved in the day-to-day operation but still comes in and makes about 30 ice cream pies a week. The popular dessert is served there with every dinner ordered. The simple menu features housemade Polish favorites, along with hand-cut steaks, as well as lobster and shrimp cooked by a former chef at John’s, Don Cirillo, and his assistant, John Pyda.
“We have this nice, smooth operation now,” Kathy said. Now, the plan is to grow a bit.
“We want to be open more,” added Stosh, 21, a business student at Niagara University who works behind the bar and helps manage the restaurant with his sister, Andrea. The pair have been coming to the restaurant to help out since they were small. Andrea, 23, plans to work there full time when she finishes her degree in travel and tourism this May from SUNY Delhi. The siblings are sometimes joined by cousins Krista Kajfasz, 22, and Deanna Kajfasz, 18, and supported by a small, loyal staff.
The Kajfasz’s understand that the restaurant is part of their family’s legacy, so the work is more than a job. “When I’m here, it’s not work for me,” Andrea said, smiling.
As such, the family is looking forward to the party on Monday. Doors open at 3 p.m. and a buffet will be served at 6 p.m. Reservations are required and tickets are $20. Polish musicians Walter Ostanek and Teddy Konia will start playing at 8 p.m. As for the traditional branch swatting, men and boys need to .IF YOU GO WHAT: Dyngus Day celebration WHERE: The Polish Nook, 2242 Cudaback Ave. WHEN: Dyngus Day Party, 3 p.m. Monday. Regular restaurant hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Wed. through Sat. FOR MORE INFORMATION: Reservations are required. Tickets are $20. Call the Polish Nook at 282-6712 for more information