Randy Hines and wife Lucy are new owners of the remodeled, 45-year old Kolache Shoppe located at 3945 Richmond, offering the original all-butter dough recipe but now utilizing local vendors like Junior's Smokehouse in Macay, Blue Heron Farms, Bee Wilde Honey and others to create numerous sweet and savory varieties of their authentic and very classic kolaches. The story is a classic "follow your bliss" tale on a food trend sweeping the nation that fulfill Hine's ultimate dream of kolaches for all.
Q. When did your passion for kolaches begin and how did you discover the Kolache Shoppe?
A. I grew up an hour away, southwest of Houston in Wharton County, a hot spot for authentic kolaches due to the high Czech population. I thought phenomenal kolaches were Universal - in every town. My first job after college was in downtown Houston about fifteen years ago- as an IT Consultant and so I asked co-workers where the best kolaches were. They turned me onto the little shop on Richmond where we would pick up kolaches on the way to client's offices. The dough was everything that I had come to appreciate growing up and it became my go-to spot. Eventually I became friends with Erwin Ahrens, who had been running the place since it opened in 1970.
Q. How did the transition happen from being a fan of kolaches to this becoming your life's work?
A. I began to travel with my job and ended up in DC for a couple of years - missing the foods that I loved. Having no kolaches drove me to miss them and I contacted Erwin to ask if I could learn from him when I was in town. I thought to myself - gosh - I love them so much - wherever I go in life, I want to be able to make these! Over the years, I learned that Erwin and I had a lot in common. He has a big farm out near Yoakum - a lot like where I grew up, and of course we had a common passion for food. He became like a grandfather to me. We kept in touch and in 2007, when his wife passed away, we had a conversation about life and loss and he said, "You're the kind of guy I'd like to see take over someday".
Q. But that was in 2007 and you just took over the shop recently - what happened in the middle?
A. It was in 2007 when I was back in Houston that I started going into the shop at 5 a.m. before my day job as much as I could for about a year so that I could learn from every aspect of the business from him. We always kept the conversation going but I could tell he wasn't ready to retire - life went on. I took a job offer in Africa in 2011 and we didn't talk for almost a year. I began dating my future wife, traveled more for work and more time went by. On the day of my wedding in 2012 I decided to call him on the way to the ceremony. I left him a message telling him I was getting married and thinking of him and when we spoke after that he asked me to bring the family by to see him. My wife Lucy and I began to talk about how we wanted to be able to work together and by middle of 2013, we all knew that the right time had come and concrete steps began taking place to make it happen. Looking back, I realize the timing wouldn't have been right for me before now. My wife Lucy brings such strength and character to the place.
Q. What have you changed - or left the same?
A. Well, we did the remodel, which is really cool. People love the new look and feel of the place. What hasn't changed is the dough - I love our dough! It's pillowy, supple, and sweet but not too-sweet. We use 100% pure butter and we don't use a kolache "mix" - it's all from scratch, every morning. The dough melts in your mouth. It's a special technique. Our main baker has been here for thirty-five years. Several of our employees have been here for at least a decade. We have the dream team of kolaches.
Some of the things I wanted to improve upon were the meat options -in particular offering local smokehouse sausage like I had grown up with. We get it from just down the road from where I grew up. The families have known each other all these years. And we partner with people in Houston who make homemade artisanal fillings for us. I'm at the farmer's markets working with these people. Everyone has a similar story - we all want to produce something really good and special.
Q. Are you living the dream now?
A. I just want to do my own thing - doing what I'm passionate about. I think it was evident to Erwin from the first day that I was really excited. I'm sharing what I grew up eating - handmade from local Czech grandmothers ... what could be better than that?