If you’ve recently driven south on Interstate 35 from Dallas to Waco, about an hour into your trip you probably noticed a few billboards emblazoned with the name “Slovacek’s.” Then, as you entered the town of West, you saw the towering Slovacek’s sign itself, signaling your arrival at the sausage maker’s new travel center, located on the southbound frontage road and featuring a meat market, a cafe selling kolaches and sausage, a frozen-yogurt bar, a nearly half-acre dog park, and restrooms with facilities for two dozen people.
You’ve heard of the barbecue wars? Welcome to the kolache wars. Before the fertilizer plant explosion that devastated West in April, the town was best known as the Texas home of this traditional Czechoslovakian delicacy. There are three notable kolache places in town: the Village Bakery, Gerik’s Ole Czech Smokehouse and Bakery, and the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery, which is the current big dog, if only because it is located on I-35’s northbound frontage road. But Slovacek’s outlet, which opened in November, fills a niche that has long gone unaddressed: sating the appetites of southbound drivers who don’t feel like getting off the highway, heading to the traffic light at TMW Parkway, and then driving under I-35 to get to the Czech Stop—not to mention going a few more blocks into town to get to the Village Bakery or Gerik’s.
Slovacek’s may be taking some business from the longtime locals, but it isn’t exactly an interloper. Like the other bakeries, it’s of Czech heritage. And since 1967, from its outpost in the tiny town of Snook, just outside College Station, it has built a sausage brand that is known across the state. In fact, the Village Bakery has for decades used Slovacek’s sausage in its klobasniki, a sausage kolache that the Village Bakery invented.
Still, even if Slovacek’s is an unofficial part of the West family, is it really good form to horn in on the local kolache industry so soon after the town was rocked by the greatest tragedy in its history? Slovacek’s owner Tim Rabroker explained that the plans to move into West actually began more than two years ago. First he tried to take over the historic and abandoned Nemecek Brothers meat market building downtown. But once that proved to be cost prohibitive, he opted for plan B, the renovation of another building, which has been in the works since 2011. In the days immediately after the April explosion, Rabroker notes, he and his staff pitched in with the relief effort. “We became more of this community,” he said.
Village Bakery owner Mimi Montgomery Irwin was clear in her opinion of her new neighbor. “Slovacek’s is an asset to the community,” she said. And their kolaches? “I prefer what we do.” Jennifer Ashley, the manager at Gerik’s, had a similar attitude. “I think people buy where they like,” she said. “We welcome the meat market. We need another one in town anyway.”
Barbara Schissler, the CEO and president of the Czech Stop, wasn’t worried either. “Our customers find us,” she said. “Anything that makes them pull off the highway has got to be good for all of us.”