Unless you're looking for it, it would be easy to drive right past Helen Mannarino's pierogie shop located in an old gas station on Island Avenue, a stone's throw from the McKees Rocks Bridge.
Fortunately for Mannarino's McKees Rocks shop, Pierogies Plus, everybody's looking for it this time of year -- whether you live in Pittsburgh or thousands of miles away.
Mannarino, who emigrated from Poland in 1974, opened her shop in 1991 selling several varieties of pierogie -- from potato and sauerkraut to spinach and ricotta. She also sells other popular Eastern European fare, like haluski and stuffed cabbage.
Mannarino cooks from recipes she learned working in her family's restaurant in Poland; much of her staff is also from Eastern Europe. This is food with guaranteed authenticity.
Here in the Pittsburgh area, we take pierogies for granted -- they are so easy to get. But devotees of the filled dough-pockets in other parts of the country go to great lengths to acquire them. Since 2003, Mannarino has shipped more than 3,000 orders of pierogies to destinations all over the country -- from Florida to California. Her two busiest times of the year are Christmas and Easter, but the winter season is definitely the toughest.
"At Easter, people are ordering for six weeks around the holiday," she explains. "But at Christmas, we have just as many orders, but they are packed into a much shorter period of time. It's much more intense."
For the Christmas season, Mannarino's staff is making about 500 dozen pierogies a week. That's roughly 18,000 little pastry pockets if you start counting Dec. 1. Not only are they filling local orders, but they're also shipping fresh pierogies, packed in coolers and dry ice, twice a week. Mannarino says they will still accept local orders for Christmas until Dec. 18.
Shipping is expensive, Mannarino says, but some people really want those pierogies.
"They just can't get them where they live," she says, smiling.
Mannarino began shipping in earnest when she received what turned out to be priceless publicity in 2003: She was featured on the Food Network special Food Finds, and in an Associated Press article that was picked up by papers around the globe. "A lot of people had no idea what a pierogie was until they saw that show and read that story," she says. "It changed our business."
342 Island Ave., McKees Rocks