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August 24, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sausage and pierogi Sausage and pierogi (August 24, 2005)

by Don Kazak

There's a little bit of Chicago's Milwaukee Avenue in Palo Alto. It's on Cambridge Avenue and is called, simply enough, Polish Deli.

Milwaukee Avenue is a busy street lined with stores running through Logan Square and other once heavily Polish neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side.

Those neighborhoods have seen waves of immigrants come in over the years. But the old delis are still there, with a clientele that still speaks Polish.

So it felt like being back on Milwaukee Avenue to walk into Palo Alto's Polish Deli and hear owner Martin Klosek carrying on a conversation in rapid-fire Polish with one of his friends, Adam Bednarski.

The deli is tiny, just 600 square feet, but shiny and tidy, with an assortment of Polish-brand products. A stack of English and Polish language newspapers, News of Polonia, sits on a counter. Klosek's morning mail included the Polish news magazine, Polityka.

Klosek, 51, and his wife, Lidia, have been in the United States for 17 years. Their 19-year-old son, Jack, is a Foothill College student and their daughter, Michelle, 12, is a middle school student in Mountain View, where they live.

They fled Poland during the turbulent 1980s, when the labor union Solidarity and its leader, Lech Walesa, were challenging the communist government. The 1989 Eastern European "velvet revolutions" led to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union.

"Everyone (in the 1980s) was worried about the future of the country and saw a better future here," Bednarski said.

The waiting list for an apartment in Poland was 15 years when Klosek and his wife escaped to the West in 1987.

"In Poland, everybody likes the United States," Klosek said. "It's the most pro-United States country in Europe. Before, everyone dreamed of the United States because no one believed communism would be gone."

Now, his son is an honors student and both his children speak Polish but think of themselves as American.

"My kids feel American, but not me," he said.

Klosek, a slight, energetic and expressive man, is happy enough to be in America. His wife operates a small Palo Alto beauty salon.

Klosek has two sisters in Poland he talks with each week. One family is doing quite well, with his brother-in-law the police chief of Pozan. The other, not so well.

"If I had known it would change, I would have stayed," Klosek said. "For sure, for sure. It's my country."

Today, life in Poland "is much, much better, but (there is) still a big difference between rich and poor," he said.

One wonders how Klosek and his family ended up in the Bay Area, but there is small Polish immigrant community in the South Bay, centered in part on a San Jose church.

An earlier wave of Polish immigrants arrived in the in the Bay Area in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Klosek's friend Bednarski said. Those included engineers and physicians.

Klosek had worked as an electrician and machinist in America until he opened his small deli in February.

The Bay Area wasn't his family's first stop after coming to the United Sates, though. They lived in Newark, N.J., for three months but found it too dangerous. "So we ran like Scooby-Doo," Klosek said.

The deli is just breaking even, mostly because the rent is expensive in the California Avenue business district, Klosek said. He doesn't accept credit cards yet because of the monthly fee he would have to pay, but might when business picks up.

For now, the business relies on word of mouth.

Klosek gets sausages and pierogi -- dumplings stuffed with potato or sauerkraut -- from a Chicago deli. And he cooks the sausages for customers on a grill on a back patio.

The sausages are great.

But he lost a couple of lunchtime customers when he told them he didn't accept credit cards.

He said later that his son is an editor of the Foothill campus newspaper. He was asked if his son, who will move on to a university next year, wants to be a journalist, but he didn't know.

"I want him to be what he wants," Klosek said. "You don't have to be rich to be happy."

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com.


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