Q&A with Joanna Kuczek, Winner of the 2012 Martha Stewart American Made Award

November 7, 2012

After earning the opportunity to pitch her Pierogi Bar idea (Krasula) in front of Martha Stewart and a panel of judges from Martha Stewart Living, Joanna Kuczek (MFA 2012 Design) found herself the winner of the 2012 Martha Stewart American Made Award. Out of 2,000 nominees, Kuczek was one of five finalists—along with MFA Design alumni Jennifer Glaser-Koehler (2011), Sylvia Villada (2012) and Jesse Yuan (2012)—to participate in the inaugural American Made Entrepreneurial Challenge on October 17 at Grand Central Terminal.

Along with a $5,000 funding award for her business idea, Kuczek will embark upon a 12-month mentorship with the CEO of Martha Stewart Living Online, Lisa Gersh. We caught up with the savvy creative to talk about her experience and learn a little more about the future of Krasula Pierogi Bar.

What was it like pitching in front of Martha Stewart? Did you know that you had nailed it?
Having the opportunity to present in front of Martha Stewart and the other judges was both frightening and exciting. I was nervous because I had to impress on two levels—the idea and the food itself—and serving pierogi to Martha (who is the expert) was very intimidating. Once I started talking, I felt their interest and saw their smiles. Especially when the food came out, I knew at the very least I had intrigued them. After the presentation, each contestant was reviewed by one judge. Martha reviewed me and had the most amazing feedback! To me that was a win, regardless if I was the winner at the end. Now I can say that I have served pierogi to Martha Stewart, she enjoyed them, and loved Krasula.

Congratulations on receiving the American Made award. Can you tell me how your pierogi bar concept first came about?
The Pierogi Bar is an idea I had prior to starting Graduate school. Food is a language through which countries express themselves and I felt that Polish cuisine in America wasn’t very successful in expressing the Poland of today. Polish cuisine is delicious, homey and flavorful, yet in the larger landscape of food in America it is a hidden gem within Polish communities. I chose to specialize in the pierogi—the symbol of Polish cuisine—and make them with wholesome natural ingredients the same way I used to make them with my mom on our family farm in Poland. I have decided to re-invent it, re-design it and bring it out of its shell into the landscape of other international cuisines, making it available to everyone.

How did your education at SVA contribute to and help shape your vision for Krasula?
I learned what it takes to create an overall experience and how design can impact society. I was able to work with faculty I admired and with advisors who were there for me every step of the way. Through their help my idea became more focused, obtainable and with the requirements of the program, I graduated with a pitch-book in hand as well as a solid presentation ready to pitch to anyone who would listen.

Is the design and ambiance of Krasula as important as the quality of the food you are serving?
Absolutely. I want my costumers to understand the space, relate to it and even experience a feeling of nostalgia. My design decisions were intentional and derived from research and past experiences. The design of the container was influenced by industrial Poland’s “milk bars” of the 1980s as well as the architecture of mid-century America. The idea of the “milk bar” was to create an intersection of two different worlds, allowing diverse ethnic groups to find something in common. Krasula’s logo was inspired by a logo of the 1980s Polish car, Zok, which not only looks like a shipping container on wheels but also represents a time period of when Poland was finally free of Communism. I felt that this vernacular compliments the food, which is also full of history and transformation.

Now that you have been awarded funds to assist in launching your idea, what are your next steps to make it a reality?
My next steps are obtaining all of the legal documents from the City of New York and The Department of Health to be able to legally run my business. If all goes smoothly, I will be ready to purchase the container and take my miniature design model to make it real. In the meantime, I invite everyone to come out and try our pierogi on November 24, 30 and December 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 6pm–midnight, at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in North Williamsburg. For more information visit bkbazaar.com. AND if you have a valid SVA ID we will even give you a pierogi discount!

Also, please add your name to our mailing list and we will notify you of any pierogi events coming up.

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