Let’s talk about kolaches. The sweet (or savory) doughy goodness that most Texans know and love. The kolache has its origins in the country previously known as Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Immigrants from central Europe settled in central and south Texas, bringing with them a food item that has amassed growing popularity. From sausage to boudin to mushrooms to bacon to apples to oranges to berries, the pastry can be filled with just about anything. Some are prepared and baked like pigs in blanket while others have a divot in the middle for the filling while others still are served like biscuits. The sheer versatility of the pastry, on top of its amazing taste, is hard to believe.
Will Edwards, founder and CEO of Kolache Kitchen, is a fascinating restaurateur to follow. Edwards has opened six Kolache Kitchen restaurants- three in Baton Rouge, two in New Orleans and one in Key West in just nine years. Even more notably, Kolache Kitchen is now franchising.
Things did not always go this smoothly for the savvy businessman. The process of creating a business is never easy. He was turned down from seven different banks for small business loans. Finally, after “rais[ing] private money from family and friends”, but mostly friends of the family, Edwards was approved for a loan to open the first Kolache Kitchen restaurant.
The idea for Kolache Kitchen started out as a small joke between Edwards and his friends and soon sprouted into college students’ favorite breakfast spot. Edwards and his friends would talk about how there weren’t any kolache nor many breakfast taco restaurants around LSU’s campus. He kidded that he would open one. Then he did. Although, Edwards wanted to be an entrepreneur, this was no easy undertaking. With the help of a graduate student at the business and technology center at LSU, Edwards began the difficult task of starting a business. He applied for loans, raised money, drafted a business plan, and found a location.
Edwards graduated in May of 2011, and 18 months later he opened his first store. On opening day of the first Kolache Kitchen, Edwards recalls hiring some of his sister’s friends on the spot because the restaurant was inundated with a sea of customers. He details how he didn’t realize two people needed to work the drive thru until the restaurant was slammed with patrons both inside and outside. Edwards has come a long way since then. Now, he isn’t concerned with how many people need to work each station but rather with “being a boss”. Owning a business is difficult on its own, but owning a restaurant comes with its own set of challenges. “It’s hard being the bad guy,” he says.
Although being in charge can be difficult, Edwards has proven his excellent leadership abilities. Within three to four months of opening the first Kolache Kitchen, the restaurant was profitable. Most businesses do not begin making any kind of profit until after two to three years. The great concept coupled with the exceptional leader resulted in a phenomenal outcome.
Just 2 years after the opening of the first Kolache Kitchen, Edwards opened the second location. “That’s when it was really hard,” he says. The transition from managing one store to another store was not an easy one. Instead of being able to monitor all of the day-to-day tasks in one place, he now had to oversee two locations, seemingly at the same time. To maintain the level of excellence he expects of his restaurants, Edwards likes to be hands-on and be able to critique the product and service when necessary. However, being two places at once isn’t possible.
The pandemic hit only 6 months after the second Kolache Kitchen in New Orleans (CBD location) opened. Edwards, the resilient businessman, only closed the restaurant completely for a mere two days. He was able to keep the restaurant going through the tough times and partial city closures. This is a huge testament to how fortuitous Edwards’ will is.
A restaurateur with a kind heart is the perfect depiction of Edwards. When at the restaurant, he actively participates in the everyday tasks of his business by cooking on the grill, sweeping, interacting with customers etc. “Kolache Kitchen is my family,” Edwards states. He enjoys working as a team and seeing all the hard work pay off. The happy workers and customers around Edwards offer him an immensely rewarding experience. This is the mark of a man who truly loves what he does.
Even the design of the buildings is handled with great care. The outside of Kolache Kitchen (Freret location) is incredibly inviting with its orange painted door and soft, cream-colored walls. When a customer walks in the restaurant, they are greeted by the bright glow from the industrial light fixtures and a happy employee manning the register. The concrete flooring gives the building a decidedly less stuffy feel. Similar to an open kitchen, the grill in the back room is situated directly behind the metal check-out counter in the front room, with a large window providing visual access between the two rooms. Customers can place their order and -for menu items like breakfast tacos- watch it be made, with the smoke from the grill spiraling around the kitchen creating an intoxicating and mouthwatering smell. If the customers happened to order a kolache, then chances are there is an extra one in their little brown bag. Many Texas donut shops will slip in a few extra donut holes with customers’ meals as a sort of signature. Kolache Kitchen seems to have adopted a signature of its own.
Although Edwards has said he isn’t the best with social media, Kolache Kitchen has a decent online following. Due to the New Orleans locations being incredibly close to Tulane and Loyola and the Baton Rouge locations being just as close to LSU, word of mouth is quite obviously a major factor in reaching their target audience. Because of Edwards’ excellent location choices, Kolache Kitchen does not have to rely on a massive social media presence like other businesses and restaurants. Once one college student finds a delicious and modestly priced restaurant, they tell their friends, who then tell their friends and their friends and so on. Edwards can attest to the fact that once the concept of the restaurant is out there, people will love it and keep coming back.
Edwards has created a restaurant that will leave a huge mark on the food industry. He might have gotten his start as a local restaurateur, but he has grown to be someone with regional acclaim- soon to be national. Perhaps, his open-kitchen style restaurants have remnants of Alice Waters written on them, but what Edwards has built is something incredibly different and new. His kolaches are baked fresh daily, with a sweet tasting bread only found at his stores. He has brought a Czech delicacy- made Texas delicacy- to Louisiana and Florida, two states whose food scene has barely been touched by the pastry. Crazily enough, Edwards says to this day people come into his restaurant asking, ‘What is a kolache?’ Not only has Edwards broadened the food palates of native Louisianians and Floridians, but he has done so in a one-of-a-kind way.
Now that Kolache Kitchen is franchising, this one-of-a-kind delicacy can be experienced by even more people. The initial franchise fee is $35,000 and the estimated cost is around $333,000. Because franchising has become a part of the Kolache Kitchen brand, the restaurant can now spread its influence across the United States. There are very few kolache restaurant chains, especially ones that have expanded outside of their home state. Kolache Kitchen has great promise to be one of the major players in the kolache game. Although it’s only a well-known product to some, the market for it is unbelievably large. There is so much untapped potential for kolaches in the food industry.
It is always troublesome to encapsulate someone’s legacy, but Edwards’ legacy is quite unique. The “quick service bakery café”, as Edwards describes it, brings a new style of food to the South, and potentially the entire United States. However, Edwards- always the go-getter- maintains that his “legacy still continues to be determined”. There is no doubt that this restaurant chain still has abundant opportunity and possibility for growth in the future.
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Gardner, Tatum. “Will Edwards of the Kolache Kitchen.” Nola Famous, Heidi Dunne. Apple Podcasts, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/will-edwards-of-the-kolache-kitchen/id1451424416?i=1000451056698
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