Death of son-in-law who helped bake adds another blow to the struggling business
Long-time customer Jennifer Molski of Flossmoor recently took a photo of Paul Drzymalla, the “Paczki King” as she called him in a Facebook post, and gave him a framed print. He has the photo displayed on the back counter of Pearson’s Bakery, where he has been baking treats for more than five decades.
It is a welcome reminder of a recent swell of community support for the struggling business.
Running a small, traditional bakery is a big challenge in the best of times, he said, but for Pearson’s, 18670 Dixie Highway in Homewood, misfortune has made the task even harder in recent months.
The local institution’s hard times got harder around Thanksgiving 2015, when the shop was forced to close for more than a month while Drzymalla recovered from health problems.
While the shop was closed, customers began posting questions on local Facebook groups, wondering if Drzymalla was OK. He said he received calls and visits from several loyal patrons. One patron, Patrick Prombo, started a Facebook page for supporters of the bakery.
Then on Jan. 22, a few weeks after the shop reopened, local artist Ben Salus posted a message calling for people to rally around.
“I live down the street, and Pearson’s has been there longer than I’ve been alive,” Salus said in a message to the Chronicle. “I spoke to him after he was out of the hospital, and I shared his concern that he might have to close down if business didn’t pick up.”
Following Salus’ message, more community members posted messages offering support, sharing memories and urging others to patronize the business.
Maleesa Losnedahl of Shop Local Movement — South Suburbs and Northwest Indiana created a “cash mob” event on Facebook inviting area doughnut lovers to visit the shop Feb. 6.
The informal campaign was having a good effect, according to Drzymalla and his daughter, Jill Drzymalla. On Saturday, they said they had seen a big increase in business since the word went out on local social media.
“People have been saying, ‘I’ve been seeing this on Facebook about you needing business. I’m here to help your business,'” Drzymalla said.
“It’s been crazy,” Jill added. “Crazy, but good.”
Her father has owned and operated Pearson’s since 1965, so she grew up helping in the bakery, she said. Her two children, ages 3 and 5, are carrying on the tradition, already helping with tasks they can manage, like dipping cookies.
The traffic in recent days reminded her of times past when she would work a shift with barely a chance for a break.
Drzymalla said the business remains a tough one to keep going. He describes it as an old fashioned bakery. All products are made on site with no chemical additives or preservatives. His product line is one that harkens back to earlier days: fresh bread, doughnuts, Danishes, pie slices, coffee cake, creme cake, wedding cakes and, of course, paczkis.
“Bakeries are closing up,” he said, and ticked off the names of half a dozen that used to be located in the South Suburbs.
But Pearson’s has endured through shifting trends. Drzymalla said the store has been in the Southgate location since 1954. It became Pearson’s in 1960.
“It owns me. I don’t own it,” he said. “Hopefully it will get better.”
But the next day, it got worse.
Jill’s husband and Paul’s baking partner, John Blount Jr., of Crete, died Sunday as a result of a car accident. Drzymalla and his daughter not only lost a beloved family member, but he lost half his production team.
“It’s a great loss,” he said Wednesday.
But while the family mourns, Drzymalla hopes to keep the shop going and is looking for someone to help bring production back up so he can meet the renewed demand for his traditional baked goods.
Monica Shelley, Jill’s sister, started a fundraising campaign for the family.
“The money raised on this page will go soley to their grief counseling, tuition and college funds,” she said in the introduction. “John was a devoted father and would have done anything for these kids and we just want to make sure they have the future that he would have always wanted for them.”