It's one of the best kept secrets in Kansas City - Strawberry Hill Povitica, the delicious "swirled" bread. Povitica, pronounced (po-veh-TEET-zah), is either Croatian or Serbian, depending on whom you ask. Although there are three bakeries producing Provitica locally, if you ask area residents, the name they'll likely recognize is Strawberry Hill.
No wonder, after starting in the kitchen of a home in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, the company is now celebrating its 30-year anniversary.
"We're representing a culture, a tradition," said Marc O'Leary, one of two brothers who run the company. "There isn't a single time that I've gone on television to sell our Povitica that someone doesn't call in and start crying because of what the bread meant to them growing up. I know how much this means to them, and we're doing everything we can to make sure we produce the most authentic, delicious Povitica we can," O'Leary continued.
According to O'Leary, the history of Povitica in Kansas City goes like this: In the late 1800s, a group of Eastern European immigrants came to town looking for work. The meat-packing business was the perfect fit, so the men and their families settled in the West Bottoms in Kansas City, MO.
The immigrants in the Stockyards and lived in the bottoms until a flood in 1903 washed them out and forced them across the river and onto higher ground in Kansas City, KS. They settled on what was known as The Strawberry Patch or Strawberry Hill.
They built their homes and brought their homemade Povitica recipes with them.
Fast forward to 1984, when, using recipes from both sides of his family and their well-kept Povitica "secrets," Harley O'Leary started the Strawberry Hill Povitica Co. in the heart of Strawberry Hill.
It was a hobby at first, but as word spread, so did the demand for Strawberry Hill Povitica.
Harley O'Leary passed away in 1999, but he left a company on the rise. Still, even he would have been surprised by the growth Strawberry Hill Povitica has seen in recent years.
"It's overwhelming sometimes to think that my father's baking hobby has taken us so far. We are constantly surrounded by customers who drop in to tell us stories about Harley. Some are pretty interesting, others are warm and heartfelt," O'Leary said.
Making Strawberry Hill Provitica is quite the process. At their Merriam bakery, workers start with a super-secret sweet dough recipe. The dough is put through a pasta machine, which thins it out.
Then workers grab the individual sheets and stretch them out, making them even thinner. They're handed off to the bakers, who apply the exact right amount of filling — one-and-a-half pounds for the classic English Walnut - the company's original, and most popular, flavor.
The baker then rolls it all up, closes the two ends, flips it over a couple of times, and slams it into a baking pan so it takes on that classic povitica shape and consistency. When finished, each loaf weighs an impressive two-and-a-half pounds.
Strawberry Hill Povitica follows a classic recipe, staying true to Harley O'Leary's original loaves. But, that doesn't mean the company isn't constantly evolving, which includes creating new flavors. The most recent addition to the Strawberry Hill lineup is Lemon Crème, which O'Leary says has been wildly popular, even to the point of outselling the No. 1 English Walnut.
It's all very exciting for O'Leary: new flavors, increasing popularity, double-digit sales growth, and now, a 30-year anniversary. O'Leary said it's been a great ride, but he's looking forward to the next 30 years.
"Thirty years is a long time. I'm hopeful that I'm not traveling as much to QVC in Philadelphia when I'm 75," O'Leary said.
Who knows if QVC will even be around then? It's a good bet Strawberry Hill Provitica will be.
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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