If you have brought pierogies from a Wegmans or Tops in the past few years, you might have noticed some filled with flavors other than potatoes and cheese. Some are filled with chicken wing dip, banana peppers, Asian pork, and cookies.
Those creations are made by Ru’s Pierogi, the brainchild of locals Zack Schneider and Andy Ruszczyk, who are now selling pierogies nationwide and in Canada.
Schneider worked in marketing since he was 20, founding his own agency, FIFTEEN, which manages all the marketing for Ru’s Pierogi. He has known his main partner, Ruszczyk, since kindergarten.
When Schneider and Ruszczyk started doing market research about what can be done with traditional foods, they explored pierogies, because they both loved making them.
“I reached out to Andy and said, ‘Start with the chicken wing dip,’” Schneider said, referring to a recipe from Ruszczyk’s great-grandmother.
Ru’s Pierogi is named after Ruszczyk, after all. He is the chef who comes up with the different recipes, which he tries out on a rotating basis.
“Andy is a mad scientist when it comes to inventing and working with food,” Schneider said of his business partner. “He wakes up in the middle of the night and sketches in notepads different ideas.”
After successfully selling their pierogies at Hoak’s Restaurant in Lakeview, the duo was encouraged to try a bigger venue--the Buffalo Wing Fest. There, they sold 10,000 of their pierogies over two days. That event proved that they had market potential, and gave them the confidence to give their product another trial run, this time at Marcy Casino. The turnout far exceeded the 200-person capacity space they had.
In 2016, they established operations at 295 Niagara St. on the city’s West Side. Dating back to the 1850s, the building was formerly a sarsaparilla factory and storage facility. Despite the fact that Schneider and Ruszczyk found the building in a derelict state, they thought it would be a good place to start.
Today, Ru’s Pierogi has 35 employees. The restaurant occupies the first floor while the manufacturing spaces take up the rest of the building. Its downtown location allows employees to either walk to work or take public transportation.
“I try and embrace the city that raised me and give back as much as possible,” Schneider said. “It’s what compelled me to do it in the city as opposed to a box factory in the middle of nowhere.”
Now, Ru’s pierogies are sold in supermarkets, restaurants, food trucks, food service, and catering.
Schneider does plenty of market research to decide what kind of pierogies to make and sell and what parts of the country to move into. Through broker connections, Schneider has been able to sell the pierogies nationwide and in Canada. They have started selling recently in Iowa, New York, Chicago, and New England. The next geographic area Schneider is looking to is the West Coast, from Seattle all the way down through California. The pierogies are already selling in the Vancouver, B.C. area.
Ru’s Pierogi also has a food truck that appears at local events to build up buzz for the products. It attends Bisons games, Canalside events, and store openings. The truck also gives demonstrations on how pierogies are made.
The truck also made sense to Schneider marketingwise, given how prevalent food trucks are in Buffalo and other major cities.
“The restaurant is only one spot, and we don’t have a lot of parking,” Schneider said. “It’s nice to take the food truck out and introduce people to the product.
Schneider considers himself lucky to have surrounded himself with good financial people on his board. They include Russ Corigliano, a partner of Rosina Foods; his son Russ Corigliano Jr.; his brother Frank; and Duffy Smith, the former senior vice president of Rich Products. Schneider said that these industry leaders had confidence in him and his past successes and felt the pierogies were a worthy investment.
“Sometimes, they’ll say something that seems common sense now,” Schneider said. “But you’re so busy doing everything else, you can’t see that sometimes. They know the industry so well, and having guidance from people like that is so essential.”
For Schneider, the business environment in Buffalo is radically different from when Ru’s Pierogi started. Nowadays, companies starting in or moving to Buffalo are bringing people into the area to work or recruiting locals with technical knowledge. With competitions like 43North encouraging local growth, it’s easier to grow and retain local talent, he noted.
“Before, the biggest challenge was having people stay here and work with us,” Schneider said. “Now, people want to be back in Buffalo.”
Launch NY also provided early financial support for Ru’s when they were in early rounds of fundraising and helped them make business connections.
“They have also always been there for support and questions,” Schneider said. “Where do I start? How do we build a factory? How do we get a permit to ship to Canada? Are the recipes ready? Is the poultry sourced from here?”
Schneider noted that it took a while to model their business, but that they have hit milestones along the way. “Every step, every day, we’re hitting successes and milestones, setting ourselves up for what’s next,” he said.