ELLINGER, Texas— Projecting an Eastern European vibe into the heart of Texas, where barbecue and brisket rule, might seem like an anomaly. It really isn’t: Hruska’s Store & Bakery, in Ellinger, Texas, has been in business for a century, long before some of the now-iconic local and regional barbecues existed.

Known for staying current while going “old school,” the management team at this Chevron-branded 10,000 square foot unit merges the past with future visions. One key: a world-class on-site bakery that produces a host of freshly baked sweet snacks daily.

The third-generation family business opened as the Hruska General Merchandise Store in 1920. Current owner and operator, Theresa “Carrie” James, began running Hruska’s in 1995, assuming control from her grandparents .

According to James’ lieutenant, store manager Angela Solis, “Our old-fashioned ways set us apart…and [help put us] Above the rest. The old school is what built our famous tradition of deliciousness. Solis would know; she started working at the store as a clerk/cashier 20 years ago.

“At the same time, we realize that we are in the 21st century. We are committed to continuous improvement in order to continue to be successful. We are always looking for ways to grow, to connect, to build a better what we call skrumption,” she says.

With a forecourt that offers five refueling islands and 10 vending machines, Hruska’s, located between Houston and Austin, offers many perks, from food and baked goods to an extensive gift shop. The fact that there is very little competition helps the cause to build loyalty. The nearest big box retailer is located approximately 20 minutes from Ellinger.

Solis recently spoke to CSP on the popularity of profit centers such as baked goods, food service, loyal employees, and well-known general merchandise and gift selections.

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: The funniest part is the customers. I like spending time getting to know different people. It’s to the point that we know what many of them want before they ask for it and have it ready as soon as they walk into the store.

Q: Talk about your staff and your operations during COVID-19.

A: We have 54 employees: clerks/cashiers, janitorial and maintenance positions, and bakery people. But of the seven to nine that we need daily to support the bakery, we rotate front-of-house employees to support the bakery. People here multitask daily. They move from the register to the janitor at the bakery; they do everything. During Covid we did a good job of keeping everyone working – no layoffs. This despite a reduction in the number of daily customers.

Q: What is the secret of success at Hruska?

A: We accept being old school. With nearly a century of success, we’ve often found that it’s the old-fashioned way that sets us apart and above the rest. The old school is what built our renowned tradition.

Q: Hruska’s is particularly known for its kolaches. What’s the story there?

A: They date back to 1962, when the management team started cooking them fresh. Every Saturday morning, kolaches were prepared with a special recipe using the freshest ingredients, including farm-raised milk, cream and cheese, and poppy seeds from a vegetable garden. They would cook three batches [about 540 kolaches] for the coming week. The bakery is connected to the store and we have kneaders to produce the dough. On a weekday, we need up to nine people in the back office to support the effort. We have a bakery specialist who has worked here for 25 years.

Q: What still makes Hruska famous in the restaurant business?

A: Our pigs in a blanket [Roll] is made of sweet spun dough, similar to sausage rolls. Hruska’s Link Sausage is a smoky blend of pork, beef and garlic and comes straight from Eckermann’s Meat Market in Shelby, TX. Our patty-style sausage is handmade: 100% pork and a little spicier.

Q: Talk about your general merchandise department and emphasis on gifts.

A: Hruska’s offers an extensive selection of seasonal and year-round gifts and home accessories. We have lots of stuff around Christmas, plus everyday gifts and apparel from Texas A&M and the University of Houston. We have everything from candles to wind chimes and lighted trees. We like to think we have the products to help enhance someone’s home decor.

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