For many of us, Pancake Tuesday has always been the last hurrah before Lent.

In Tralee, Co Kerry, however, some locals seem to have taken another tradition to their hearts, or rather, their tummies: Tlusty Czwartek, known in Poland as Fat Thursday, which falls the week before Ash Wednesday.

Rather than pancakes, this celebration involves consuming copious amounts of traditional paczki, or doughnuts, made with a sweet cottage cheese and sprinkled with sugar.

Indeed, it proved so popular that last year in Tralee, Fat Thursday rolled into Fat Friday, Fat Saturday…

Rustic Boowa will be making traditional paczki or doughnuts for Fat Thursday. \ Pawel Koscielniak

“We finished making them on Pancake Tuesday!” laughs Zaneta Labuz-Czerwien of Rustic Boowa: the award-winning bakery and cafe that she started mid-pandemic with her sister Ilona Koscielniak and their husbands, Piotr Czerwien and Pawel Koscielniak.

Though once Lent itself lands, we reckon it would be hard to resist their other offerings; be it a blueberry boowa (their signature brioche-style pastry) or an apple sharlotka cake. But before we gorge ourselves entirely… let’s get back to the story.

Krakow to Kerry

Zaneta explains that she and Piotr first arrived in Co Kerry from Poland in 2005. A qualified schoolteacher at home, she found work in Ireland with an insurance company, while Piotr, a baker, traded pastries for plastering.

Six years ago, they were joined by Ilona, who had worked in administration, and Pawel, who had experience in baking and hospitality.

Rustic Boowa was set up by sisters Zaneta Labuz-Czerwien and Ilona Koscielniak and their husbands, Piotr Czerwien and Pawel Koscielniak. \ Pawel Koscielniak

Over the years, they had discussed starting a food business, but in December 2020- after getting Zaneta and Piotr’s kitchen signed off for production by the health authorities- they took the plunge to sell to the public, starting with a pop-up tent and table in the car park of The Oyster Tavern restaurant outside Tralee for six months, before investing €10,000 savings in a food trailer to trade at two local beaches.


“The demand was getting bigger and bigger and with the weather, it was getting so difficult to be there every single day,” explains Zaneta. “For four of us, it was a decision either to stop or go full-time; and to go full-time, we needed to find a premises.”

After a few false starts, it was actually a customer who mentioned that he had a vacant premises for rent in the Clash area of Tralee, close to the south campus of Munster Technological University and University Hospital Kerry.

Rustic Boowa opened in Tralee in December 2021. \ Pawel Koscielniak

With Piotr and Pawel able to tackle most of the renovations, the biggest investment was fitting out the bakery, which Zaneta estimates cost about €48,000; but fortunately, they received 75% LEADER grant aid through North and East Kerry Development Partnership.

Such support allowed them to launch their bakery and café in December 2021; and they have not slowed down since.

Piotr is the baker-in-chief, turning out three types of sourdough (100% rye, spelt and wheat and 50:50 rye and wheat) as well as soda breads with flavour combinations like cheddar cheese and spring onion, apple and thyme, feta and sunflower seeds, and cranberry and walnut.

Savoury scones, brioches, butter buns and focaccias are also baked in house; and then there are the unique sweet treats, such as the boowas that change with the seasons (think plum and cinnamon or rhubarb and ricotta) or St Martin’s croissants filled with their own marzipan.

But more familiar bakes- like carrot cake or brownies, made by Ilona- also feature, as do vegetarian and vegan soups, quiches and sandwiches. Local suppliers include Ardfert Dairy & Poultry Farm eggs and milk, along with Irish butter, but they also source ingredients from home, such as an organic flour from a water mill in Poland that they are currently trialling.

Rising costs

The family recently celebrated their first year in business, but it has not been without many challenges: chiefly, the electricity bill.

“December 2021, it was 9 cents per unit. Then it went up to 19 cent, and we thought it was a lot. Now it’s 69 cent,” explains Zaneta, though she adds that they have applied for the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme, which would allow them to claim for up to 40% of the increase in their bills if approved.

The rising prices don’t end there, however.

“One pack of plain [takeaway] boxes- small ones- went up from €32 to €77,” lists Zaneta as another example. “Ingredients wise, it’s about 30-50%.”

Rustic Boowa also serves soup, salads and quiches. \ Pawel Koscielniak

Stories of other food businesses having to close can rattle the nerves too; especially as all bar Zaneta have left their previous jobs to go full-time into the business.

“It is scary, it is challenging for us emotionally,” Zaneta acknowledges. “You think about those places; but at the same time, you don’t know what’s behind the scenes.”

Fortunately, a five-year contract means that their rent is stable, while there have also been big boosts along the way, such as winning gold for their boowa at the Blas na hÉireann food awards.

But just as important to Zaneta is the feeling of community in the café, and “the satisfaction” of a returning customer. Indeed, due to demand, they are currently completing a €20,000 renovation to open up more seating space, while they have also invested €10,000 in converting the upstairs of the building to offices/hot-desking space to diversify their income stream.

And looking ahead- post Lent- there will be more treats to come; such as the super-sweet layered mazurek cake for Easter.

Another new tradition for Tralee?

“Everyone asks us this question, ‘You don’t find it difficult to sell something to the Irish people?’” says Zaneta.

“Most of our customers are the Irish. Yes, the challenge is on day one when they don’t know what it is, but if you give them a sample to try, most of them like it… everything!”

More info

Rustic Boowa is open Tuesday-Friday 7.30am-5.30pm and on Saturday from 8.30am-3pm. For more, follow on Instagram and Facebook.