NEW PORT RICHEY — When Hurricane Irma hit the Tampa Bay area in September and caused power outages, brothers Greg and Peter Kokoszka thought their business was safe.
In a rush, Greg had traveled more than 2,400 miles to New Jersey and back to purchase a generator powerful enough to sustain the walk-in freezer and a wall of refrigerated deli cases at the European deli the two men have owned for nearly a year.
But they couldn’t foresee what would happen next. Not only did someone steal the 400-pound generator; the person or people also destroyed nearly everything inside the brothers’ deli. Damages totaled more than $150,000 in damages, it took about a month — and an attorney — to get the insurance company to help.
"We threw out six dumpsters of perishables," Greg said. "It was insane. County sanitation said they never saw anything like it."
The brothers and their families spent nearly two months cleaning, painting and replacing stolen or broken items. They worked anywhere from 80 to 100 hours a week cleaning up, and that included hiring a cleaning crew to help.
And while many questioned whether the business would ever reopen, StaroPolska Kuchnia was back in business with a soft opening on Oct. 26.
Restocking a deli is not as simple as many other businesses. Most of the fresh foods are made right in StaroPolska’s kitchen. And many of the products on the shelves come from companies overseas. They also sell imported beer, kegs and wine. Many items, such as the fresh, homemade pierogies (Polish dumplings) are still missing, but delicious frozen ones are available until they are back in production.
"We’re about 25 percent back in operation," Greg said. "We’re still getting there. It’s a lot of work, and it takes time."
StaroPolska makes its foods using only fresh products, with no nitrates or fillers, and follows simple and traditional recipes that date back more than 100 years. In fact, the bread they bake is a family recipe from 120 years ago.
Once a visitor steps inside the deli, the aroma of fresh kielbasa and other sausages will cause a hungry stomach to growl.
"We only use A-plus meat from companies with great reputations," Greg said. "Sometimes we will use some local greenbelters."
Greg, 31 and his brother, Peter, 40, were born in southeastern Poland, near Kraków. They came to United States more than 25 years ago, living in the New York and New Jersey areas. Their father worked in the deli world, crafting sausage for 60 years.
"I was 2 or 3 when I first saw sausage being made," Greg said. "It runs in the family."
Aside from sausages and pierogies, the deli sells fresh bread, soups, cakes, pastries, meats and other items found throughout Europe. They soon hope to offer Russian foods.
In the meantime, the brothers, with the help of family and employees, are working tirelessly to get the grocery and deli "back to par." The destruction is still under investigation. Detectives have told the Kokoszkas that the theft and damage appear to have been pre-planned, possibly "to take us out of business," Greg said. It made the family wonder if it was a hate crime.
The brothers said it was their customers that kept their spirits up. During the cleanup efforts, customers continued to stop by. Some cried. Some offered hugs, while others got on their knees and prayed with them.
"We were all just awestruck," Kokoszka said.