A New Pastry Shop Brings a Czech Snacking Tradition to the County

Owner Donita Ayotte is selling some 4,000 of the micro hand pies a month at Northern Maine Kolache Co.

By Brian Kevin
Photos by Dave Waddell
From our June 2024 issue

The kolache is a cosmopolitan pastry: well-traveled, adaptable. It was the Czechs who started stuffing fruit filling into folds of puffy, semisweet yeast dough, and they brought kolaches to Texas during a 19th-century immigration wave — “kolache country” is occasional shorthand for the Central Texas counties where they settled. The Texans set about bastardizing them, filling them with meat and other savory ingredients (which the Czechs would call klobasniky) and turning them into a drive-through breakfast and lunch staple — particularly around Houston, the birthplace of both the Kolache Factory and Kolache Shop franchises.

Donita Ayotte grew up eating them in her (largely Polish-descended) Oklahoma hometown, and she took the micro hand pies for granted during a long stint in Houston, where she worked as a tech recruiter. “If you work in an office, you bring kolaches to meetings,” she says. “Every doughnut shop down there carries kolaches.”

There were none to be had, however, after she and her husband, Stacy, moved in 2021 to his hometown of Hamlin, in the upper-right corner of Aroostook County, 1,900 miles and a cultural universe away from Houston. So she dusted off her grandma’s dough recipe and made a few batches for the crew at Ayotte Farms, the multigenerational potato operation Stacy returned to help run. They were such a hit, she offered to take orders on Facebook. “And like 30 days later,” Ayotte says, “I looked at my husband and said, ‘I think I need to open a shop.’”

Northern Maine Kolache Co. opened in January, in what had been a diner on Van Buren’s Main Street. It’s a temporary home for the doughball depot while the Ayottes renovate a place up the road, but it’s a bright and cozy hangout, with a vintage Coldspot fridge full of Topo Chicos and natural sodas beneath a barnwood-framed chalkboard listing the day’s dozen-ish kolaches — sweet and savory, $3 a pop.

Standouts on a recent visit included apple pie, pulled pork, and jalapeño popper. Ayotte — a triathlete, former semipro football player, and mom of two — takes a whole-foods approach to pastries. No canned pie filling here: she and two staffers do all the apple peeling. Pot-pie kolaches start with a whole chicken and potatoes from the farm. Minimally processed turbinado cane sugar was swapped into the old family dough recipe that yields pockets soft and luscious.

The shop is selling some 4,000 kolaches a month, enticing kolache pilgrims from as far as Bangor, including a few delighted erstwhile Texans. Eventually, Ayotte says, the pastries may come to them: she hopes Van Buren is the first of several locations that’ll turn Maine into kolache country. 

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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