Autumn Stanford is taking over New York City one kolache at a time. The Austin native opened Brooklyn Kolache with her husband, Dennis Mendoza, in 2012, introducing the “Czech-Tex” treat to Bed-Stuy denizens, while also drawing displaced Texans from around the city. They come for excellent versions of classic flavors like poppyseed, cherry sweet cheese, and jalapeño sausage cheddar, with the smoked sausage—both Texas beef and garlic pork—coming from Meyer’s in Elgin. But there’s also pimento cheese, spinach and feta, peanut butter and chocolate ganache, and, because it’s New York City, bacon, egg and cheese.
Stanford and Mendoza also own two Brooklyn bars, Swell Dive (which serves breakfast tacos with a Filipino twist) and Tailfeather (a wine bar), and this past June, as the city took its first steps into a post-pandemic rhythm, Stanford and a new partner, Dallas native Ben Siegel, opened a second Brooklyn Kolache—this time in Manhattan. “Hey West Village, have you ever tried a kolache before?,” the store queried on Instagram. With Brooklyn Kolache officially established as a New York mini-chain, Stanford shares her story with writer Jason Cohen.
I’m from Austin, born and raised. My grandparents lived in Houston. At least every other weekend, one of us would make the trip in either direction, and we always stopped at Weikel’s in La Grange. We went to the bathroom and got kolaches.
And then I didn’t really think much about kolaches. I moved to New York, I lived in Colorado for a while. I worked at Seamless from 2004 until the end of 2011. Then I knew my job was moving to Salt Lake City, so I was like, “What do I want to do?” Some of my favorite jobs were bakery and cafe jobs through high school and college, including at Texas French Bread [in Austin]. And so I thought, “Why don’t we open a cafe?”
My brother-in-law was the person who asked, “Why don’t you ever talk about kolaches?” And that was really the first time in however many years that I realized: I haven’t eaten kolaches. And there’s no kolaches here! I decided to see if I could bake them.
I actually started off doing Texas Monthly recipes. There were three recipes in one article. I tried each one of those, and from there I was like, well, I want it to be a little bit yeastier. Or, I like this one, but let me play around with it. I did that for six or seven months. And then once I was happy with the recipe, I said let’s look for a space.
Right before we opened I knew I wasn’t going to get to travel for a while. So I took my daughter and my mom on a kolache road trip. We went to Weikel’s and I almost had a panic attack, because it smelled so good. I got a sweet cheese that was still hot from the oven, and it was so amazing that I thought, “How can I even compare? What am I doing trying to recreate someone’s childhood memory?”
I would say in the beginning our kolaches were good, but we’ve gotten so much better over the years. Now I feel we can compare.
There was a really long time where people would come in and ask for a muffin. Or a croissant. So what I just started doing was giving people kolaches. Like, “Okay, we don’t have that. We make these. But let me just give you one.” And they would be kind of reluctant …“Oh, okay.” But then a lot of times, people would come back in and say, “I don’t know what you gave me. But I want more.”
On the weekdays, it was people in the [Brooklyn] neighborhood [of Bedford-Stuyvesant]. Coffee really drove our sales for a while. And then we got good press, and got in front of the right Texas people. The TexpatsNYC Meetup group. I partnered with the Texas Exes on some fundraisers. Once the Texans found out, the weekends became crazy, and to this day they still are. We would have lines out the door, and everybody would wear their UT or their A&M gear.
We do everything the old-fashioned way. We don’t use powdered milk. We crack real eggs—lots of cracking real eggs. King Arthur flour. Cabot butter. Even if somebody’s never had a kolache before, it reminds them of something homemade from their childhood. They’ll say, “Oh, my grandmother used to make cinnamon rolls that tasted like this dough.” It brings back that homemade flavor, which I think you lose in some of the bigger kolache places.
I was raised on sweet kolaches. I never did savory. Growing up, I never even thought of them as kolaches. We always called the savory ones pigs, or pigs in a blanket. We would go to Rudy’s BBQ—there was one really close to my house—and get breakfast tacos and pigs in a blanket.
Every day, my son asks me for a chocolate peanut butter kolache. I don’t want him to eat chocolate in the morning before school, so every day I tell him we sold out. He’s six, and he’s starting to be like, “You should really make more of those!”
My daughter likes the sour/sweet ones. So when in doubt, cherry sweet cheese. But if we have lemon curd or strawberry rhubarb, she’ll go that way. They eat a lot of kolaches. One day my daughter was like, ”Oh, I hope I get a kolache today.” I told her, “You probably eat more kolache than any other kid in the state of New York!”
A few years ago, there was a Texas Monthly barbecue [event] in the basement of Hill Country, and Aaron Franklin had a bunch of leftover briskets. And I was like, “What are you gonna do with them? I have a kolache bakery, and I would love to take them.” I don’t think it fazed him—he probably didn’t understand how weird that was in New York City. There was kind of an agreement that I wouldn’t use his brand or name, so I just hinted: like, THE most famous brisket is inside of this pastry.
I never eat the egg kolaches. They’re popular, but also the least recommended by me. I understand you want protein, and breakfast. But in my mind, if you want a real kolache, you’re gonna do a sweet one or a sausage one.
I don’t call them klobasneks because it’s already a learning curve trying to get New Yorkers to even know what a kolache is. If I make it any more complicated, people are just gonna be like, “I don’t care.” People can call them whatever they want. They can call them buns. I do get people on Twitter who want to mansplain kolaches to me. Like, all right, dude. I actually am a kolache expert. Professionally!
We have big expansion plans. We hope to maybe open another one in New York City, and then from there, other Northeast cities. And I would love to open one in Austin. I know we would get a lot of s—. Because I think Austin is one of the few places that’s like, cooler than Brooklyn, right? So I’m sure we’d get a backlash. But that’s okay. I feel like if you make really good kolaches, it wouldn’t matter if you’re named Brooklyn Kolache and you’re in Austin.