Chef Chick’s Bakery | 2500 Meridian Pkwy Suite 135, Durham | Opening summer 2022

Stepping into Margaret Szewczyk’s kitchen, the unmistakable smell of pastry and baked butter hangs in the air. A hint of sweetness follows—sugar and apricot. All of a sudden, the baker’s townhouse feels like home.

The warm smell of bread and baked goods has followed Szewczyk around since she was a child. She’s not sure when she started baking, but it’s something she’s done “forever,” Szewczyk says. She has fond memories of sitting in her grandmother’s house in Poland, talking to her babcia as she shuffled around the kitchen.

“Even now when I bake, I feel her with me,” Szewczyk says. Her grandmother never wrote her recipes down, but the secrets behind her traditional Polish dishes were passed down to Szewczyk’s father, who then passed them to Szewczyk. This year, the Cary local is finally pursuing her vision of opening her own bakery.

“[Baking] is not what I went to school for … but it’s always been my passion,” Szewczyk says. “I figured when I retired, I’d open a bakery. I just decided not to wait anymore. It was something I would regret forever if I didn’t try it.”

Later this summer, Szewczyk will open the doors to Chef Chick’s Bakery, off Durham’s Meridian Parkway. And as she waits for equipment to be delivered and construction to finish on her storefront, she plans to bake treats at home for delivery around the Triangle. (Interested parties can order through the Toast tab on her website.)

The bakery’s name is a play on her last name. People are often stymied by “Szewczyk,” with its tricky z’s and w’s. When asked how to pronounce it, she always explains it the same way: “Imagine a ‘chef’ and a ‘chick,’ like a girl cook.”

Szewczyk’s is from Gdańsk, Poland, where she also spent her childhood. In 1983, at age seven, Szewczyk immigrated to the United States with her parents, who settled down in North Carolina.

Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, Szewczyk made frequent trips to Europe to see her extended family. Now that it’s difficult to visit, she says, baking things like mazurek, her favorite Easter dessert—a kind of large shortbread topped with chocolate and walnuts—makes her feel a little closer to home.

That’s the feeling she wants to offer people through her food, Szewczyk says. A feeling of comfort and belonging in a place that might otherwise feel strange. People don’t come to North Carolina just from California and New York but also from eastern European countries like Romania, Hungary, and Croatia.

Szewczyk, who has heard stories from her parents about how tough it was settling down in the United States, wants to offer what support she can for the eastern European community in the Triangle. Eastern European food isn’t easy to come by in the Triangle—specialty goods like kolaszcki, kielbasa, and pierogis often require a drive up North, especially since longstanding Durham institution Halgo European Deli & Groceries closed in 2020. Szewczyk wants the bakery to be a place for people who may not feel like they have one, she says.

“My parents really struggled when they first came here. It was very hard for them,” Szewczyk says. “I’d like [the bakery] to be a place where people can come and feel comfortable and feel welcome … and maybe you’ll find a food that reminds you of home or reminds you of something from your childhood, that brings back warm memories. That’s the feeling we want to create.”

Szewczyk also wants to give people who have never traveled to Europe an authentic taste of the continent’s food and culture.

“We really want it to be an immersive experience, where you walk in and you feel like you’ve been transported,” she says. “I’m hanging curtains like the ones my grandmother had. They get made over in Poland, I’ve never seen them here. My dad is making the cabinets, the bread displays. The floor is gonna look like what it looks like in Europe.”

Szewczyk plans to feature baked goods from a different country each month—treats like Welsh cakes, Swedish cardamom buns, and financiers, small French almond cakes that look almost like bars of gold, she says.

Szewczyk is also buying magazines from abroad for people to browse. She plans to put a map on the wall where people can show where they or their families are from. She hasn’t finalized all the details yet but says she’s brimming with ideas about how to help create and support a multicultural community.

For now, though, the baker is operating out of her home, from a renovated kitchen that is a culinary dream come true. Granite countertops, a bread oven, and a gas range create a clean, professional space where the baker can whip up everything from pączki, the Polish version of donuts, to kołaczki, a kind of cookie made from cream cheese and butter, often filled with jam and topped with powdered sugar.

Szewczyk’s kołaczki are a soft bite of sweetness, the dough tangy with a slightly sour undertone from the cream cheese. She’s filled some with homemade apricot jam, some with Ferrero Rocher chocolate, and some with black currant jam. It’s one of her favorite fruits: a small berry often used dried in scones and other English pastries.

In the Szewczyk family, food is a love language. Whenever she went to Poland, her grandparents would “pile on food,” she says. “They would cook enough for an entire army.”

Szewczyk’s got that gene too. Whenever someone comes to her house, her first instinct is to feed them. Now, as she starts her own bakery, she’s hoping to feed an entire community.

“My grandmother’s cooking always made me feel better, no matter what was going on,” Szewczyk says. “I think it’s possible to make people feel better through food.”

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