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Lidia Trempe of Rudys Strudel and Bakery in Parma Ohio holding up a piece of stretched out dough

Love is All She Kneads

Lidia Trempe pours heart into Polish and Ukrainian family recipes at this Northeastern Ohio bakery.

Rudy's Strudel & Bakery in Parma

Love is All She Kneads

By Wendy Pramik

Posted On: Apr 12, 2022

Stepping into Rudy's Strudel & Bakery, in the center of Parma's Polish Village, is like stepping into eastern Europe.

display case of cookies and baked goods at Rudys Strudel and Bakery in Parma Ohio

In addition to strudel, there's scrumptious pierogi, made by Ukrainian-speaking women wearing babushkas in the cramped kitchen. There's also nut bread, poppyseed bread, kolachki cookies, tortes and polka music, emanating from a stereo in a corner.

These days there's a special collection customers will notice – a large pile of clothing and household goods donated by the community, soon to be sent off to Poland to help refugees besieged by war in Ukraine.

Lidia Trempe of Rudys Strudel and Bakery in Parma Ohio baking with two other women

Rudy's goodwill and edible delights come compliments of Rudy's charismatic owner, Lidia Trempe, who has run the 75-year-old bakery since 2008. Rudy's is a cornerstone of Parma's ethnic community, and its food and friendliness emanate from Trempe, a one-woman owner, baker, cook and promoter.

"It's such an incredible privilege to be here, and I'm so humbled that I get to feed my community and share our family's traditions and recipes," says Trempe, whose mother was born in Ukraine and raised in Poland, and operated Rudy's for years.

Trempe welcomes a steady stream of customers with a big smile in between checking on pierogi production and making sure the baked goods are freshly presented. Her jeans and boots are dusted in flour. Her auburn hair is held back by a babushka with a lovely floral design.

closeup of Born to the babushka shirt at rudys strudel and bakery in parma ohio

Customers can buy their own scarf at Rudy's, or a shirt that reads, "Born to the babushka."

"I've been credited to making babushkas cool again," she says, flashing an infectious grin. "That's a big honor."

Trempe says it's important to honor her ethnic heritage while keeping it relevant to new clientele. As such, she's representative of a group of business owners who make Ohio a great place to visit. She's quick to promote other businesses in her neighborhood, such as Krakow Foods & Deli in Polish Village, and State Meats in Ukrainian Village.

"There's a huge upsurgence of people interested in their roots, especially here with eastern Europe," she says.

Hungarian immigrants Rudy and Anne Belohlavek founded Rudy's in 1948. They were part of a wave of immigration to Cleveland after World War II. Trempe's mother, Eugenia Polatajko, bought Rudy's in 1979 and continued offering Hungarian strudel, using the bakery's original recipe.

Rudyss Strudel & Bakery in Parma Ohio

Trempe and her older brother, Mark, grew up in the bakery, but Lidia didn't think she'd ever own it. Instead, she majored in political science at Cleveland State University and later worked as a lobbyist. She moved to Chicago with her former husband in pursuit of her career.

But when the bakery came upon hard times, Trempe moved back to Parma and took over as part owner with her mother. These days, Lidia's children, Maya, 13, and Luka, 11, hang out at the bakery. Maya even works the front register.

"Rudy's puts Parma on the map," says Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter, who stopped by on a snowy Saturday in early spring to pick up an order. "It's the epicenter for Paçzki Day, and Lidia is a lifeboat to the other bakeries, too."

In Polish culture, Pączki Day is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of penitence that leads up to Easter Sunday. Parma is the self-proclaimed Ohio capital of pączki, filled doughnuts made with a rich, brioche-like dough.

On Fat Tuesday, lines form outside Rudy's well before dawn, and the party is soon on. A DJ spins polka music beginning in the early hours, working up the crowd. Trempe says this year she sold 78,000 pączkis.

"The neighbors around here don't love me so much because we're pumping polka at 5AM," she says. "The police always get called, and we turn the music down. But it's tradition."

Rudy's is open Tuesday through Saturday, and Trempe's there every day. There's a futon in her office, where she sometimes sleeps, such as during the height of pączki season.

"It's better to be on a lumpy futon than to drive home," says Trempe, who lives in Lakewood.

Another party ensues in Polish Village on Dyngus Day, the Monday after Easter. It's a day of more pączki, live music and a unique tradition of people squirting each other with squirt guns. This year Cleveland will celebrate its 12th-annual Dyngus Day on April 18.

"There's nothing like it," Trempe says.

pierogis being filled at rudys strudel and bakery in parma ohio

Trempe is also well-versed in making pierogi, Polish dumplings filled with potatoes, cheese, onions and a host of other sweet and savory ingredients. Perogies are offered at many places in Parma, in either Polish Village or nearby Ukrainian Village.

Trempe says the idea to add pierogi to Rudy's menu came serendipitously when her grandmother was visiting from Poland in 1984 and began cooking the dumplings for dinner. Customers caught on, and a new tradition was born.

Today, Rudy's offers pierogi in traditional and non-traditional varieties.

For Trempe, it's a creative outlet.

"When LeBron James came back to town, I learned on game day that he liked to eat chicken, broccoli and rice. So we made a chicken-broccoli pierogi," she said. "The Christmas Story pierogi has what Randy eats – meatloaf, with sour cream, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce."

Mayor DeGeeter says his favorite is a pierogi called The Ballpark. It's made with kielbasa, sauerkraut, sour cream and stadium-style mustard.

"They are the bomb," he says.

For more foodie fun and things to do in Parma, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org

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