AVOCA — For almost 100 years, Cwikla’s Bakery has been a staple in the borough. Residents who frequent the shop on Main Street know about its unique taste.
It’s hard work, however.
Cwikla’s Bakery was featured in the Sunday Dispatch’s “Spotlight” edition on July 31, 1988. Twenty-seven years ago, the Cwiklas, Jan and Carl, were featured as having the last remaining coal-powered brick oven in the Wyoming Valley. The same can be said today.
The coal-powered brick oven that sits in Cwikla’s Bakery was installed in 1911. The oven has a capacity to cook 140 loaves of bread at one time. Back when the oven was running non-stop for six days a week, the family dumped about 4 tons of coal into the oven each month.
The oven must be warmed up 24 hours before it can be used, and maintains an average temperature of 500 degrees. As far as the flavor goes, Jan said it’s not something that can’t be imitated in an electric or gas oven.
“It gives it a great crust, especially with bread,” he said. “It’s extremely hot burning.”
The oven uses anthracite coal and has been documented by the Anthracite Museum and the Anthracite Historical Society. Every four to five hours, one of the brothers loads a few shovels of coal into the oven. Every six weeks, the bakery goes through around two tons of coal.
It’s not an easy process, Carl said. The oven needs to be monitored nearly all day.
“We start in the morning with the stuff that needs to be baked the hottest,” he said. “As the day goes along we bake the coolest stuff, like cookies, in the evening and at the end of the day.”
The bakery’s decorating department is operated by Carl. He’s still making specialty wedding cakes throughout the year, all of which are baked in the coal oven. He recently had a family come into the shop that was looking for a wedding cake. The bride’s mother and grandmother each received their cake at Cwikla’s in the past. It was then the granddaughter’s turn to purchase her cake from Cwikla’s.
The family sees generations stroll into the shop all the time. That’s what the business is all about, Carl said.
“We have a local following,” Carl said. “It’s definitely a passion to continue on what your father and grandfather started. We’re a traditional bakery and we’re a family.”
The bakery offers cookies, donuts, paczki, specialty and decorated cakes, pastries, pies and all kinds of bread. Currently, the duo is getting ready for Easter. Carl said the French cream donuts are one of the best sellers.
The story of Cwikla’s
At the turn of the century, no one from the area would have thought the building on Main Street would one day produce some of the finest bread in town. Originally, the building which houses the Avoca bakery, was to be a private hospital. The area was even prepped with railroad tracks in close proximity.
The building was built in 1909 by the Brown family.
In 1910, Carl’s and Jan’s grandfather, Marcin Cwikla, immigrated to American from Austro-Hungary and began working for Browns. Shortly thereafter, the building’s owner, DW Brown, decided to open a bakery once the hospital wasn’t in the plans anymore. At the beginning, the bakery offered confectionary, baked goods, ice cream and cigars. For many years after the Cwiklas took over, the ice cream parlor stayed in business and even offered seating inside.
In 1921, Marcin purchased the building from Brown and went into business for himself.
Carl’s and Jan’s father, Joseph, took over the bakery after being discharged from the military in 1945. Joseph would later passed down the business to Jan and Carl.
The bakery business was really booming in the 1960s when the family even owned a delivery truck and sold baked goods out of the vehicle. The Acme market that used to be next to the bakery on Main Street didn’t sell baked goods, so Cwikla’s were always busy, Jan said.
“We lasted because we have a good product,” he said.
Pizza Dogs takes over Cwikla’s
About five years ago, the Cwiklas were struggling to make ends meet. By guidance from the brothers’ nephew, the duo began making pizza and quickly opened Pizza Dogs at Cwikla’s Bakery.
The business currently features Old Forge-style pizza available Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The pizza business has turned into 30-40 percent of the Cwikla’s output.
“Being a baker so long in this area I learned how to make Old Forge style pizza from the bakers,” Jan said. “I started making pizza shells and my brother came up with a nice sauce.”
Walk-ins for lunch are welcome, but the brothers say patrons must try a Pizza Dog.
A Pizza Dog is specialty dough shaped to resemble a hot dog bun, and wrapped around a piece of Italian sausage. Cheese and sauce is then added to top off the dish.
The bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s hours are 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday is 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick