On the evening of April 17, Mimi Montgomery Irwin, the owner of the Village Bakery, in West, Texas, was sitting at home in her living room when she felt a loud boom. Immediately her mind raced to her late-shift bakers who were hard at work preparing kolaches for the next morning, rolling out the dough in the cavernous back room beneath a large skylight. Irwin panicked. Did the skylight crash on them? She called the bakery; no one answered. When she pulled up to her store, the street was pitch black. As she walked in, the bakers were standing in their white aprons in shock. They were fine. The glass had not broken; the building was intact.
Soon, however, Irwin learned the full extent of the devastation, which I wrote about in our September issue. The town’s fertilizer plant had exploded, killing fifteen and damaging hundreds of buildings, including the roofing and piping of her own house. Despite this, at six-thirty the next morning, the Village Bakery opened as usual, selling the kolaches that had been pulled out of the oven around the time of the blast. Like all small business owners in town, she struggled to keep her operation open while talking with contractors, insurance adjustors, and FEMA representatives—and, more importantly, comforting family and friends.
Eight months later, the town of 2,500 is slowly beginning to heal and rebuild. The effort is apparent to anyone driving through town: 120 homes have been demolished, 35 new homes are being built, and the high school and junior high school are taking shape. (Other projects—like the streets on the north side of town, which bore the brunt of the blast, and the nursing home that was razed—are still in the planning stage.)
Facing the long road ahead, the city’s businesses are especially appreciative of visitors’ patronage this holiday season. You’ll have to make the drive to town if you’d like to purchase some glassware from Czech Point Collectibles & Antiques (114 E. Oak, 254-826-7144) or kolaches from Slovacek’s (214 Melodie Dr, 254-826-4525), a meat shop and bakery that just opened across Interstate 35 from the iconic Czech Stop. But folks farther away can place a mail order by phone with the businesses listed below. Kolaches from anywhere would be a great gift for Christmas morning; a package from West is doubly thoughtful.
The Czech Stop only ships when temperatures dip below 50 degrees, and anything with sausage should probably be shipped overnight, so note the weather and choose your product accordingly. The croutons, which are made from kolache dough, travel well. One dozen mixed kolaches, $10.89. 254-826-4170
Specialty holiday offerings at the Village Bakery include pumpkin loaf, pumpkin cream log, and persimmon cake. You may want to throw in a traditional Czech Christmas treat called Vánočka—double-braided bread with fruits and nuts, topped with vanilla icing. One dozen mixed kolaches, $11.50. 254-826-5151
The smokehouse has gone out of business, but locals still stop in the bakery for the kolaches and the gigantic cinnamon rolls. One dozen mixed kolaches, $14.50. 254-826-3327
Maggie Grmela sews remarkable custom-made Czech costumes—perfect for uninhibited festival-going family members. For more reserved relatives, consider the selection of Czech-themed T-shirts, caps, aprons, bumper stickers, and CDs. 254-826-5189