CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The kolaches and other Czech pastries are back, as Czech Village landmark Sykora Bakery has reopened under new ownership.
Closed since late July for interior updates, owner Craig McCormick said the decision was made to coincide the reopening on Sept. 15, 2023, with BrewNost, a major fundraiser for the nearby National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
The bakery, at 73 16th Ave. SW, has been in Czech Village for more than 100 years.
Originally a saloon called the Dew Drop Inn, the building was constructed in 1900.
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Charles and Anna Kosek opened the first Czech bakery in the building in 1903. Joseph Sykora, who worked for the Koseks, bought the business in 1927. He and his wife, Clara, owned and operated Sykora Bakery for nearly 40 years, followed by their sons, Lumir and Lester Sykora. Lumir died in 1969, and Lester continued operating the bakery until just weeks before his death in 1994.
Don Janda operated Sykora Bakery before John and Sue Rocarek purchased the business in 2001.
“The last thing I wanted to do was buy a bakery,” said John Rocarek, who had worked in the banking industry, but saw a need to keep the Sykora tradition alive. “You’re pretty much 24/7.”
John Rocarek gives a tour of Sykora Bakery to members of Save CR Heritage in 2019. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Rocarek described the unprecedented 2008 flood as a “horrible” time for the bakery and the rest of Czech Village, as floodwaters reached more than 8 feet high in the building.
“All of my family and friends got flooded and the bakery, too,” he said.
Rocarek recalled longtime business owner George Joens reopening his nearby flooring business with just a card table and paper sign in his window shortly after the flood.
“Talk about moxie,” Rocarek said.
That moxie, or Czech determination, as some might call it, also helped Sykora Bakery recover after the flood.
A 1920’s Hubbard Oven, which had been in use until the flood, came back to the bakery as an educational piece, where it remains, just beneath a Depression-era oil painting.
Painted by a house painter named Clint Kalous — as legend goes, for two loaves of bread — the landscape survived the flood high on the wall, and won’t be painted over, even as the walls of the bakery were painted a soft shade of “Czech” red, said Marna Trcka, who is managing the bakery.
The oil painting and Hubbard oven remain inside Sykora Bakery. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Trcka said changes under the new ownership include a full coffee menu and take-and-bake traditional Czech dinners, in addition to the pizza that was added to the menu under Rocarek.
Rocarek said he plans to retire after selling the bakery to McCormick, who is involved with Bo Mac’s, a restaurant/bar across the Cedar River in New Bohemia, and other businesses.
The two have known each other for 30 years, which factored into Rocarek’s decision to sell, he said.
Bakers, Rocarek noted, generally arrive around midnight to start their day, and he would typically arrive around 5 a.m., seven days a week.
George Sykora, a cousin of Lumir and Lester, had helped in the bakery with the traditional Czech recipes after the death of his cousins, Rocarek said.
Manager Marna Trcka is shown in Sykora Bakery in August 2023, while the interior was being updated. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Trcka said the kolaches and other traditional Czech pastries will remain on the menu.
“So many people have memories of coming here when they were little,” she said. “We’re not taking the character away; just bringing the Czech back. We want to make babi (grandmother) proud.”
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