Today we are strolling down the Avenue in the heart of the Czech Village, to Sykora Bakery, a landmark serving Cedar Rapids & the Czech Community for over a century! (Since 1903, to be exact!)
In the following Czech Village photo from 1910, horses and horseless carriages share the road that is divided by trolley car tracks. The old 16th Ave. Bridge is in the background, and today’s Czech Cottage is the building on the far left, in the foreground.
The original Bohemian settlers came to live in Linn County as early as 1854. When coming to Cedar Rapids, they first settled in the districts on the east side of the river known as “Oak Hill” and the “Flats.”
Many generations of the first Bohemians worked at the “Packin’ House” – T. M. Sinclair & Co., later known as Wilson Foods, then Farmstead Foods; the “Starch Works” – Penick & Ford, now known as Ingredion, Inc.; and the “Cereal Mill” or “Quaker” as Quaker Oats was/is often called.
An Irishman is actually the one credited for Cedar Rapids’ large Czech population.
Thomas Sinclair opened T.M. Sinclair & Co., on the city’s southeast side, in November of 1871. He hired some of the first Bohemians in the area, and found their work ethic second to none.
Sinclair encouraged his new industrious employees to contact family and friends back home in Bohemia and let them know they had a job waiting for them in Cedar Rapids.
Many villages in Bohemia saw family after family leave “the old country” for America.
At the beginning of the last century, the Bohemians began migrating to the city’s west side. The word “Bohemian” fell out of favor over the years. It was often replaced with the derogatory “Boheemee” or “Bohunk.” Then adding to the stigma was the use of the word “bohemian” spelled with a small “b” to describe a wanderer, vagabond, or even worse (especially to Czechs – a gypsy.)
The historic building that houses Sykora Bakery was built in 1900, during the era of dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, and horse-drawn delivery wagons.
Its first tenant was a saloon named Dew Drop Inn. The large limestone steps in front of the main doorway cover a onetime open stairway that led to a basement barbershop.
Hair cuts were just a quarter back then.
Charles and Anna Kosek opened the first Bohemian bakery here in 1903.
The family moved temporarily to Arkansas in 1912, but retained ownership of the building while several others operated a bakery under various titles for more than fifteen years.
Joseph Sykora had worked for the Koseks and in 1927, purchased the building and alongside his wife Clara owned and operated Sykora Bakery for nearly forty years.
The building has undergone many changes over the years, including four additions.
From 1921 to 1934, the one story section was the west-side branch of the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Their Hubbard Oven (1893 patent, installed in the 1920s) was the heart and soul of the bakery for more than eighty years. In June of 2008, the oven was forced into retirement by the historic flood.
It was once again returned to service in June of 2010, this time as an educational centerpiece positioned under another longtime bakery icon.
In 1930, during the Great Depression, Clint Kalous painted the bakery building in return for bread.
An accomplished artist, Kalous left his permanent mark on the bakery by painting a scene which depicts a green countryside with a sign pointing the way to Sykora’s. The painting also portrays bee hives, a reminder to us today, that Joseph Sykora kept bees and harvested his own baker’s honey.
After Joseph’s death in 1966, son Lumir Sykora, and later, son Lester Sykora owned and operated the bakery until 1994, when it was purchased by Don and Sheila Janda.
John and Sue Rocarek purchased Sykora Bakery in September, 2001, and operated it until November, 2006, when they closed it for major structural repairs.
The flood of ’08, created many changes as well as opportunities for the century-old bakery.
Eight and a half feet of the Red Cedar River made it to within three inches under the Kalous painting.
Equipment replacement was difficult.
Sykora Bakery moved into the 20th Century with the addition of the 1947 vintage Despatch Best Boy Oven.
332 volunteers from across the country contributed over 2,500 hours to restore the bakery after the disaster.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver presided over the ceremony, helping to celebrate the reopening of Sykora Bakery in April, 2009.
Each year, they host the Sykora Bakery Cabbage Roll Relay Race during Houby Days, and Svejk Fest, the Saturday before Labor Day.
Shortly after reopening, the bakery added the lower level gift store, the outdoor cafe, and later, the free outdoor art exhibit.
In September, 2016, the “little bakery on the Avenue” entered into a new phase in its century-plus history by adding a full Czech, Moravian and Slovak restaurant menu.
Marj Nejdl designed these great aprons! The bottom one says,”Chicken noodle soup is the best. It would be even better if you could get the chicken to lay the noodles!”
Have you enjoyed the book, “The Good Soldier Švejk” or attended Švejkfest, their local fall festival to celebrate the book’s main character?
If so, you’ll enjoy their new buttons commemorating the event! Aside from delicious bread and kolaches, you should stop in to pick up a Švejkfest button from each of the first four festivals. They also have Czech and Slovak key-chains available!
And these… Something that you don’t see in the U.S.A. too often…
Do you know what these are?
Perhaps your babi (grandmother) used one?
It’s a baster made with goose feathers often used to brush butter on koláče fresh out of oven, keeping them soft and making them shiny. Their basters are made in the Czech Republic.
Make your Babi proud – stop in and buy a peroutky (feather baster) the next time you are in the area!
They also feature wonderfully gifts created and painted by Marj Nejdl.
She is their magnet and graphics designer!
The talented Marj Nejdl has been designated as a National Folk Artist by the Smithsonian Institute!
Sykora Bakery has even had some presidential visits over the years…
Like the time when Bill Clinton came in for some delicious Czech baked goodies!
Of course, with kolache as delicious as these, it is easy to see why people come from far and wide!
… And of course, delicious poppy seed ones, too!
Learn more about Czech Village.
Learn more about Sykora Bakery.
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