Growing up (before restaurant)
As a young adult in Poland, Andrew Dabrowski came across a fascinating story about American truck drivers in a Polish magazine when he was eighteen that motivated him to make such a job his life dream. Following his aspirations, the young Pole arrived in New York in 1977 in hopes to start his career. In a few years, after he moved to California and got his professional A-1 driving license, Andrew realized his dream and drove a big rig.
Growing up in Poland, Katherine (later) Dabrowski inherited a love for cooking from her moter and grandma. While her parents worked, beginning at the age of eight, she often would enjoy cooking a full dinner for the whole family.
In the Autumn of 1993 Katherine arrived in Los Angeles to join Andrew, whom she met during his Summer vacation in Poland. For several months she looked for a job. After they married, the Polish couple bought a house in a nice L.A. neighborhood, Glassell Park, and gave a house warming party. Delighted with the food Katherine served, many guests urged her to take advantage of her skills and open a restaurant.
Hard to get even in restaurant business (statistic)
Furthermore, the competition in the business is so fierce and according to statistics, less than 1% of newly opened restaurants survive over two years, and many of them simply strive to make ends meat. The situation with Polish restaurants was even worse. For decades only one, Warszawa in Santa Monica, operated. Many attempts to open new ones failed. Polish food is so elaborate as it takes much work and consumes a variety of materials, that making profit off it is quite a challenge for one’s skills and efficiency.
But fate always gives a chance to those who are willing to take it. In the Summer of 1994, just around the corner from the Dabrowskis’ house, a restaurant went out business, a medium size place, perfect for a family eatery. Andrew looked over the limits on his credit cards and figured out that he could squeeze some twenty-something thousand dollars out of them. The interest rate in 1994 was 17% at its lowest, but… either you have the faith and guts, and take chances regardless of the odds, or you do not and will never know what could have been.
After much thought and effort, Andrew and Kasia rented the place, opened Polka Restaurant, and off to work they went. And some work it was! Since back then their business was open seven days a week from 10 AM till 10 PM, the new restaurateurs began everyday early in the morning. Andrew later described his part in his self-published book:
“After working on average ten to eleven hours a day, El would punch out his time card and drive his Buick to a food warehouse. He would load the car up to the roof with produce and meats, food products and cleaning materials. He would unload and neatly stock the supplies in his restaurant’s refrigerators and freezers and on the metal shelves. From being overloaded mercilessly every day, the leaf springs of his car had straightened out, making the suspension completely hard, resulting in quite a rough shaking driving experience. El got used to that, consoling himself with the notion that having modest demands from life is a valuable asset. He helped Ella to serve customers till 10 PM, and past 11 PM they went to bed.”
Fortunately, Fate helps those who strive, as the maxim goes. A couple of months after Polka opened, the prominent restaurant critic, Elmer Dills, visited the restaurant and talked about it on his popular radio show. He then filmed and showed it on KABC TV. On January 6 of 1995 Jonathan Gold put a story about Polka on the first page of Los Angeles Times Food Section. Then another prominent food critic, Mario Martinolli, put the business on another TV station. And thus, the business took off. Over the seventeen years, that Andrew and Kasia owned it, the restaurant has developed its steady clientele which every so often loves to stop at the place with a uniquely cozy ambience for So Healthy, Nutritious, Delicious Polish Dishes, as the slogan on the restaurant window goes.
As with every business, over the years Polka has had its ups and downs. There were periods when the Dabrowskis could purchase new equipment to improve it or a better van for supplies. Especially after the popular KCET Huell Howser and the Food Network shows featured the restaurant on TV. At other times Andrew again had to ask his boss for more overtime hours. Albeit, in general, the couple was proud by offering their guests a product that makes folks happy, as they put it.
End of an era (the end of the beginning) every beginning start with an end
At the end of the Spring of 2011 Andrew and Katherine sold the restaurant and moved back to Poland. There, they organize campaigns to inspire foundation, Projekt Inspiracja, states. Andrew’s fascinating book, Create Happiness, keeps being sold at www.createhappiness.net
New face on the horizon
Katherine’s relative, Michal Budny, was born and raised in the remarkably beautiful lake (2000 of them) region of Mazury in Poland. Ever since his youth, his desire was to become independent. This must have come with his genes, since his Dad, an entrepreneur owner of few successful business, is a highly successful self-made man.
This also must be one of the reasons why Michal wanted to get his higher education in the United States. In 2009 Mike (his translated American name) graduated from the Business Administration Department from a University in Riverside California.
In 2005 Andrew and Kasia Dabrowski welcomed Mike in California with a dinner at Polka. Listening to his expressions of enchantment for their restaurant, Kasia jokingly said that one day, when she and Andrew retire, he might take the business over. Little did she know that this might have planted the seed of the idea in Mike’s mind which was to grow.
When in 2009 Andrew and Kasia announced that in two years they will retire, Mike’s candidacy for a successor came naturally. Especially since he loves to cook and, like they, wanted to work to be proud by offering their guests a product that makes folks happy.
Reunion for good
In the Spring of 2011 the family arranged the terms of the transfer of the ownership of the business. Mike as a new boss took over the venture. And thus, under the new captain, the ship called Polka keeps its sweet voyage, offering guests a product that makes folks happy.