Kasia's Deli founder, Kasia Bober dies at 80

Date: 
06/09/2016
KasiaPrt

Kazimiera "Kasia" Bober

As a child in Poland, Kazimiera “Kasia” Bober had no shoes and but one dress.

When she passed away at the age of 80 last Thursday, June 2, she had many pairs of shoes and many dresses, but more importantly many caring, loving family members surrounded her, friends around the globe cared about her and tens of thousands of people were eating food that her businesses produced. 

"She never said 'no' to anyone and she deserves everything she has," said her friend Daria Kulczycky in Chicago's Ukrainian. "She had a fantastic work ethic and was extremely humble and selfless." 

"Before you get, you must give," Kasia repeated to her family over the years. Her life story is all about that…giving. 

Determined to give her three children a better life, Kasia, a 38-year-old single parent, left them in Communist Poland with family in 1974. That was such a traumatic decision that to the end of her life, she would choke back emotion, when she told the story. 

She arrived in Chicago knowing no English but filled with the determination to bring her children to Chicago. She worked 16- to 18-hour days at multiple  jobs. One was at Caesar's Polish Deli in the 900 block of N. Damen Ave. 

By 1982 she was able to bring Maria, then 20, and Chris, 12, to Chicago. They lived near Damen and Chicago. But she wanted to earn more money. Her eldest daughter Barbara, who had daughters, Elizabeth and Joanna, were still in Poland. 

KasiaFam

Barbara Jakubowicz, Maria Kordas, Kasia Bober, Renee Bober, Julia Bober and Kasia Kordas

Her work at Caesar's made Kasia think about having her own deli. Then toward the end of 1982, she saw a "for rent" sign in the window of a former sausage factory at Hoyne and Chicago. Kasia called the owner and agreed to pay $500 a month rent. The first brick was laid for what would become Kasia's Empire. 

She worked in Kasia's Deli, 2101 W. Chicago Ave., during the day and cooked at night. Maria's dream to be a nurse was put on hold as she helped her mom. Chris went to school. She realized that her biggest selling item was pierogi and that she needed produce more of them. 

In a July 2009 WBEZ interview, Thaddius McCarowitz, one of Kasia's pierogi customers, said that he remembered when she needed to find a machine to help  make pierogi. "She finally found a ravioli machine that did something kinda of like something similar to pierogi and then she would hand finish each of them, so that she could say 'it's hand made' pierogi. " 

In 1989, Barbara, Kasia's first child, moved to the United States with her family. Now Kasia's determination to bring her whole family here was realized. But now there was the challenge to grow her business even more, after all there were now grandchildren's futures to work for. 

Kasia's success by 1995 meant that her decades of making pierogi by hand, even with the help of ravioli machine, needed to change. Sales in tents at festivals came to a crescendo at The Taste of Chicago and she won the first of four consecutive "The Best Pierogi in Chicago" awards. Presidents, Governors and Mayors became fans. 

Newsweek Magazine picked Kasia as one of the top fifteen entrepreneurs who "create exquisite food with the finest ingredients and whose product transcends ethnic orientation." 

Kasia's began selling wholesale, with Jewel as their first customer, then CostCo and more customers. When United Airlines came onboard to serve Kasia's Pierogi in the "Friendly Skies," they were flying high. The Empire was built. 

By this time, Chris was taking over the wholesale business with Elizabeth in the office. Barbara was the other key person at the Deli and Maria was able to pursue her dream in the medical field. 

In the WBEZ interview, Kasia was asked about retiring. She said, "Never. I'm going to die in the business, I love my business." And so, in a way she did. She was in the store working on Wed., June 1, and before Thursday ended, Kasia Bober died of heart failure.

KasiaExtr

Kasia's Deli

At the Deli the food is still wonderful, the workers are still helpful and friendly, the deli is still sparkly and clean. The woman who, as a child, had no shoes is physically not there to smile at you in person, but her picture greets you at the door and her spirit remains. 

Kasia's Deli and the wholesale Pierogi business will continue to be run by the Bober families who all were taught the work ethic of Kasia. 

It is said that she threatened to haunt them, if they do not continue the legacy of fine food and community concern and support that she set as the way of doing business and occupying space on this planet. 

Kasia's family members are: daughters Barbara (Waclaw) Jakubowicz and Maria Kordas (Dr. Boguslaw) Bonczak and  son Christopher (Renata) Bober along with grandchildren Elizabeth (Zbigniew), Joanna, Peter, Kasia, Lucas and Julia as well as great-grandson Leon. They request that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Gift From the Heart Foundation/ Dar Serca, 3860 N. 25th Ave, Schiller Park, IL 60176 or the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60642.

Visitation at Muzyka Funeral Home, 2157 W Chicago Ave., will be on Friday from 3 to 9 p.m.  The funeral will begin at Muzyka's on Sat. at 9:15 a.m. and proceed to St. Helen Catholic Church for a 10:00 a.m. mass. Interment will be at St. Adalbert Cemetery.

 

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Comments

My deepest condolences to the

My deepest condolences to the family of Pani Kasia. I moved away to Florida in 2005 but when back in town would stop by to visit my old friend as often as possible. I met Pani Kasia back when she worked for Cesars deli. She eventually took over the spot on Chicago Ave. As a wholesale distributor I would bring her the assorted jams, jellies,dried food products etc. She was always very grateful to me and offered me freebies either at the store or at Taste of Chicago. Pani Kasia I will always have you in my thoughts. Csest. Mike Dackiw

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