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Indie Closeup: Old School Meets New Ideas

‘Skrumption’ and tradition drive success at Hruska’s Store & Bakery
Photograph courtesy of Hruska’s Store & Bakery

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

Known for staying current while going “old school,” the leadership team at this 10,000-square-foot, Chevron-branded unit melds the past with future visions. One key: a world-class, on-site bakery facility that churns out a host of sweet snacks made fresh daily.

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

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

“At the same time, we realize this is the 21st century. We’re committed to continuous improvement so we can keep on succeeding. We’re always seeking ways to grow, to connect, to build a better what we call skrumption,” she says.

With a forecourt that offers five fueling islands and 10 dispensers, Hruska’s, located between Houston and Austin, boasts many advantages, from the food and bakery items to a sizable gift shop. The fact that there’s very little competition helps the cause on building loyalty. The nearest big-box retailer is located about 20 minutes from Ellinger.

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

Q: What’s the best part of your job?

A: The most fun part is the customers. I like to spend time getting to know different people. It’s to the point where we know what many of them want before they ask for it—and have it ready as they enter the store.

Q: Talk about your staff and operating through COVID-19.

A: We have 54 employees: clerk/cashiers, janitorial and maintenance positions, and the bakery folks. But of the seven to nine we need daily to support bakery, we rotate front-store people to support bakery. People here multitask daily. They move from register to janitorial to bakery; they do it all. During Covid, we did a good job keeping everyone working—no layoffs. This despite a cutback in the number of daily customers.

Q: What’s the secret to success at Hruska’s?

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

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

A: They trace back to 1962, when the management team began baking them fresh. Every Saturday morning, kolaches would be made with a special recipe using the freshest ingredients, including milk, cream and cheese from livestock, and poppyseed from a home garden. They would bake up three batches [about 540 kolaches] for the coming week. The bakery is connected to the store, and we have mixers to produce dough. On a weekday we need up to nine people in the back room to support the effort. We have one bakery specialist who’s worked here for 25 years.

Q: What else is Hruska’s famous for across foodservice?

A: Our Pigs-in-a-Blanket [Roll] is made of sweet-spun dough, similar to sausage rolls. Hruska’s link sausage is a smoked blend of pork, beef and garlic and comes straight from Eckermann’s Meat Market in Shelby, Texas. Our patty-style pan sausage is handmade: 100% pork and a tad spicier.

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

A: Hruska’s features a huge selection of both seasonal and year-round gifts and home accessories. We have a lot of stuff around Christmas plus everyday gift items and apparel from Texas A&M and the University of Houston. We have everything from candles to windchimes and lighted trees. We like to think that we have the goods to help enhance someone’s home decor.

 

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