It’s hard to walk down a block in Port Richmond without seeing a Polish deli or market. On Allegheny Avenue, there are two delis across the street from each other. Despite the direct competition, Polka Deli, Inc. and Polmart both have a strong customer base due to the neighborhood’s high Polish population.
“Food is food,” said Polka Deli Inc. owner Marek Kucajrski. “Whatever the economy is like, people still have to buy food.”
The thriving American marketplace is why both delis set up shop in Philadelphia.
The three Polish partners who opened Polmart 17 years ago met each other in Germany but decided the United States seemed the best place for their business.
Kucajrski started Polka Deli, Inc. in 1996 with his wife and mother-in-law. He met his wife in America, moved back to Poland to be near both their families but chose to start his own family in the United States. He and his family finally settled here in 1990.
Despite Poland’s freedom from the Communist government starting the year the family moved, Kucajrski said Philadelphia was a much better place to live and start a family-owned business. Poland’s economy still hadn’t recovered from the regulations and restrictions imposed by the communist regime.
“There were coupons for food and gas and things. Everything was rationed,” Kucajrski said. “There would be lines for gas and there was never enough.”
Today, Poland has become one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. Kucajrski, his wife and his two daughters go back every year to what seems to be a new nation.
“Poland is a completely different country now,” Kucajrski said. “You can buy whatever you want.”
It might even be a better place for the Kucajrski family store now that less people are visiting the neighborhood due to new immigration restrictions.
“There are still a lot of Polish people here, but not like before,” Kucajrski said. “Summer students would come to America for a couple months to study and live here. Now there are problems getting visas to enter the states and Europe is completely open to them.”
When the family goes back to visit Poland, one Kucajrski parent always has to stay behind to manage the store. With his daughters getting older and soon to graduate high school and college, Kucajrski said he doesn’t know if the family will stay in Port Richmond.
“My roots are in Poland, my family lives there,” Kucajrski said. “It depends on my kids, whether we go back.”
For the family-owned and operated Polka Deli, Inc. it doesn’t matter what the economy is doing, it will be the family that decides the future of the market.