Behold the Texas kolache: a spin on Czech- and Slovak- inspired homemade dough filled with meats, cheeses or fruits. Over the years, the popularity of the semisweet pastries has grown from central and southeast Texas to spread across the country. While both Caldwell and West, Texas assert themselves to be the state’s kolache capitals, Westchase District lays claim as the birthplace of Kolache Factory, one of the fastest growing companies in Houston.
Though now headquartered in Katy, the enterprise was co-founded by John and Jerri Banks in 1982 in Westchase District at the Woodlake Square shopping center. “After a couple of years we moved south across the street to 9711 Westheimer because it was a better traffic direction for selling to morning commuters,” said Dawn Nielsen, Kolache Factory vice president and the Banks’ daughter.
The store closed in 2013, but Kolache Factory remains a prominent presence in the area with two Westchase District locations: one at 10535 Westheimer Road (which features a drive-thru window) and one at 10455 Briar Forest Drive. “There’s a great mix of commercial and residential traffic coming in and out of Westchase District,” Nielsen said. “Our Briar Forest store reaches folks not on Westheimer and vice versa.”
Recognized as one of the top five drive-thrus in America by Food Network, the brand currently has 24 company-owned and 28 franchise stores, including locations in California, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Virginia. “We plan to open 100 new stores in the next two years and we’ll open two or three more in Houston this year alone,” said Aaron Nielsen, director of franchise sales and Dawn’s husband. “We’re upgrading the interiors of all our existing stores and the Westheimer location has a full service espresso bar.”
Supporting another local company, Kolache Factory has partnered to serve Katz coffee, roasted right here in Houston, at all of its locations. “We didn’t want to serve drip coffee like at some old diner,” Aaron said. “Of all the brands we sampled, Katz was simply the best cup of coffee out there. It was an easy decision.”
Aaron said deciding how many kolaches to bake onsite every morning is an easy decision, too, thanks to computer software that forecasts the optimal number. He estimates that 2,500 kolaches are baked every day at the current Westheimer location. “It allows us to keep our waste low and our food fresh,” he said. “I sure wish I’d had this software back in the days when I was managing the original Westheimer store.”
With each store baking everything it sells onsite, high freshness and low waste is important, since the stores are required to discard their entire inventory every four hours. “We’re not like traditional bakeries because our products contain meat, eggs and cheese,” Dawn said. “So you might say that freshness is baked in to our business model.”