Translating Tradition- An Interview with Babushka's Owner, Ann.

" It's rare for me to be inspired by a business. But the moment I passed the stall in the Q-mart in Quakertown, PA called Babushka's, I was struck with a multitude of feelings. Hunger being one of them. This true gem of a shop is a weekly stop for me and I hope if you're in the area you stop by- they are open Fridays and Saturdays from 9am-9pm and Sundays 10-5. You can also activate your salivary glands by following them on Facebook (@whippedcreamontop)  and Instagram (@mybabushkas). Enjoy! " - Larissa Nemeth

DIBS: Brief Bio - Tell me about yourself and what you did leading up to Babushkas

Ann: I am a Jersey girl 100%.  Make all the fun you want of New Jersey, but growing up there was great.  I had a pretty normal childhood in the suburbs.  It was the 70’s and life was pretty simple.  We didn’t have a lot to worry about growing up.  The big excitement every year was the neighborhood block party and the 4-H fair.  

My first job was at a diner in Fairfield, NJ.  I was 14 years old.  Of course, I didn’t drive so I would ride with my dad from Bridgewater, NJ (where I grew up) to Fairfield (where my dad’s business was 45 minutes away) and he would drop me at the diner down the road.  It was owned by a very loud Greek couple.  The money was great for a kid and I really enjoyed it.  Through high school and into my early adult years I worked in a series of restaurants.  Everything from McDonald's to country club fine dining.  I was a bartender on and off for many years.

After I started having children I began working as a secretary (this was before you had to call them administrative assistants) and that eventually led to jobs in marketing which is pretty much where I stayed until the economy tanked and I found myself unemployed.

I am married to the only man on the planet who understands my kind of crazy.  Last year I came home one night and said – the ice cream shop at Qmart is available.  I want it and I want you to remodel it for me – He laughed for a minute because he thought I was joking.  When he realized I was serious he just sighed and said – My back hurts already.

DIBS: When did you open?

Ann: Babushka’s opened August 4, 2017

DIBS: What was the scariest part of opening?

Ann:  Honestly – money.  Whatever you think it is going to cost to open a business DOUBLE IT.  My husband and I work hard, but like many people, we have spent a lot of our lives living paycheck to paycheck.  Taking a financial risk this big, especially with a family to support was terrifying.  

DIBS: What is your favorite thing to make or bake?

Ann:  Chicken Soup.  Some of my earliest memories are of my Great Grandma Ann cooking (this is the Hungarian side of the family and her picture is the background on my Facebook page).   When we would visit her she was always in the kitchen, babushka on her head, making something delicious to eat.  Her soup was the best thing I ever tasted and it took me many years to recreate the flavor in my own soup.  You understand my GG Ann died when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, so I never had the chance to learn from her, plus she spoke very little English and I only understood a little Hungarian.  Her recipes and methods didn’t get passed down.  My grandma Ann (my mother’s mother) died before I was born (my namesake) so I never got to meet her or learn from her either.  I know the years of practice and experimenting paid off because I have a customer who is a deeply rooted Hungarian and he had my soup a few months after I opened.  When I asked him if he liked it he gave me the best compliment I have ever received.  He said, “It tastes like my childhood”.  I know exactly how he feels.

DIBS: Any baking or cooking challenges you'd like to try that you haven't yet?

Ann:  Everything new is a challenge.  I’m always learning.  Last week I learned that if the frosting color doesn’t turn out the way you want it, adding more color isn’t going to help so you might as well just throw it all away and start again, which is what I had to do.  Nobody wants to eat gray icing.  I don’t have any ambition to bake extravagant desserts, but I would like to try to make some more authentic Hungarian desserts like dobosh torte and Rigo Jancsi.

DIBS: How does your family history play a role in your business?

Ann:  I talked about the soup earlier, but my very first memory of cooking was with my Great Grandma Sophie.  My parents were on a vacation and she had come to stay with me and my sister.  She wanted to make cheese blintzes.  She was a short woman, maybe 4’ 8” so she had me pulling out chairs from the kitchen table and climbing up onto the counters to fetch her the pots and pans and ingredients she couldn’t reach.  I remember watching her closely and how she taught me all of the little details that went into making her blintzes.  I was about 5 years old at the time.  

I grew up in the post war 1970’s when everyone was eating TV dinners and food from a can, but my dad always had a big garden where he grew vegetables for us to eat.  I learned what fresh food tasted like from my father’s efforts.  We would eat peas out of the pod and string beans off the vine and stuff ourselves with red raspberries right from the canes.  His garden is where I got my love of clean, fresh food.

DIBS: Do you have any dreams or visions for the future of Babushkas? 

Ann:  I would love to see Babushka’s open new stores in different locations.  As long as I can maintain the feel and quality.  That is pretty far down the road at this point.  Right now I am working on perfecting the menu and expanding it a little bit.  There are still a lot of things I want to do to make this shop the absolute best it can be.

DIBS: Do you feel the experience of owning and operating a business as a woman is different for You?

Ann:  Since I never ran a business as a man, I don’t know if it is different or not.  I can tell you that when customers ask about the owner, they usually ask for a ‘he’ and not a ‘she’.  People are still stuck in the mindset that restaurants are run by men.  I’m okay with that.  I like the idea that I am setting an example for the young women that work for me.  I am showing them that women can do anything thing they want, including running a business.

DIBS: What do you think is unique about operating out of the q-mart?

Ann:  The Qmart itself is a unique place, so of course, running a business there will automatically come with an extra helping of Quakertown charm.  I love it.  Every weekend the hallways are filled with an interesting cross-section of humanity and there is no way to pigeonhole who the ‘Qmart shopper’ is anymore.  The market has been open for 85 years and has had to change along with the needs of the people who shop there so it is constantly in transition.  One of the reasons I chose to open Babushka’s in the farmers market was that I saw the next generation of Qmart shoppers looking for something more like they would experience in Philly or New Hope without having to make the long drive.  They want familiar but fabulous and I hope that is what I am giving them.

DIBS: Any crazy stories or experiences you can share?

Ann:  I don’t know about crazy, but interesting things happen every weekend.  It’s just part of the deal that comes with being in the Qmart.

DIBS: What's the #1 reason you can give for someone to stop by and give Babushkas a try?

Ann: Quality.  We all need to eat to survive.  Shouldn’t eating be more than that?  If you are going to come into my store and hand over your hard earned money I want to be certain that you feel it was worth it.  I am always asking customers what they think, how I can improve, what would they like to see offered because the customer experience is what matters beyond all else.  If I work hard to provide the best quality in everything from the ice cream to cupcakes to soup and bagels, then add in staff that are as dedicated as I am to making every person who comes into Babushka’s feel valued and appreciated I have a winning combination.  It seems to be working so far.

Images Provided by Ann