Part of an area affectionately known as “Poland on the Passaic,” Garfield, NJ, is home to Piast Meats & Provisions, an authentic Polish deli with two locations, both in Garfield, and both not far from the Passaic River.
Visitors and residents alike enjoy a host of genuinely Polish options in the area. “There are lots of Polish stores, bakeries, florists—it is more than just Piast,” said Martin Rybak, son of founders who came from Poland and eventually opened their first deli location in 1991. “There are a lot of first-generation migrants, speaking native Polish. People who come will notice this authentic cultural experience.”
Today, the Piast deli is made up of a team of professional butchers, bakers, and cooks who labor in their craft with care and passion. Their goal is to produce a fresh, homemade product so that when customers taste it, there is no doubt about the origin or quality.
Fresh, Artisan-Prepared Food
Just hearing Martin Rybak describe Piast’s menu options and how they are prepared is enough to make one’s mouth water. Headed to Piast? You may have a hard time deciding between smoked meats, cold cuts, pierogi, sweets, and many other Polish specialties.
“We’re unique because we make our own product which has increasingly become a lost art,” Rybak said. “To be a butcher is not familiar and sadly it’s a dying craft in America. It’s hard to find true artisan butchers. We’re very fortunate to have a group of talented butchers who work for us and make all these products.”
All About the Kielbasa
Looking over the menu, you will see at least 18 different kielbasas—all of which are made by hand and with basic machinery on Piast premises. Rybak explained the two ways that they typically smoke kielbasa.
“One way is to use a commercial smoking oven. It’s a computer-controlled environment with heat, humidity, and smoke generated from wood pellets. This is great for cold cuts and moisture retention—half of our kielbasas are made in commercial smokers.” Customers typically order kielbasa from the commercial smoking oven for a backyard barbecue or for another dish where they plan on cooking their kielbasa.
“The other way is through wood fire smokers—those are really our secret sauce,” said Rybak excitedly. “We have these chambers burning real hardwood logs—they’re handmade with masonry and metal and really something to see. We roll racks of kielbasa over an open flame, so they are roasted and smoked. It’s just like cooking over an open campfire. We call that double smoked. They do lose a little moisture in that process, so they are usually eaten cold.”
However, Rybak described that the pinnacle, double-smoked, kielbasa-eating moment can also be achieved by stopping by one of their locations on a Friday or Saturday. The team often schedules their batches of kielbasa to finish while stores are packed with customers. On these special days, guests witness the butchers as they carry in hot, fresh, and glistening rods of smoked kielbasa.
“It’s an otherworldly experience,” smiled Rybak. “The best compliment we’ve gotten was from a Polish [customer] saying this is better than what they have at home.”
The Rule of Piast (It’s a Good One)
Buddhists have nirvana—and that is all fine and good. But Piast customers can reach “meat-lightenment” by simply timing their visits right. Rybak juxtaposed this magical moment of artisanal meat cooking with the large-scale, mass production that has taken over the food industry. The team behind Piast makes a special product to separate its service from the competition.
“People are becoming more selective about what they eat,” said Rybak. “On that note, we have two kinds of kielbasa that have no added nitrates, which are naturally occurring compounds used to cure meats. The Hungry Man’s kielbasa, for example, is made without curing salts. It’s not going to last as long. But it is something that people have asked for and that we’ve been making for many years.”
In addition to the kielbasa, Piast customers often seek out their signature pierogi, cold cuts, stuffed cabbage, beef jerky, and hot entrees that are served on site. For first timers, Rybak has one simple rule.
“Just ask for a sample,” he said. “I can tell who has or has not been here before. I’ll give a sample of kielbasa, beef jerky, or black forest ham. Without fail they end up loving it. It’s a hands-on business and it’s like that in Poland, too. You strike up a conversation with people here and it becomes an event.”
In addition to lunch and dinner items like kielbasa and pierogi, Piast also has a bakery on site. The crew makes their own breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries like their jelly doughnut, poppyseed cake, and, of course, the cherry-and-cheese babka.
“It’s a tradition to eat a jelly doughnut on Fat Thursday, February 24, before Lent begins,” said Rybak. “We sell thousands that day.”
Beyond the Local Crowd
The Piast website showcases the specialties and is set up for online orders wrapped in packaging to give proper duration for safe transit all over the country.
“We’ve shipped thousands of packages to Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and [throughout] New Jersey. They’re so grateful. We take for granted what we have here, but you can’t find this everywhere,” said Rybak. “It reminds us why we do what we do. For many people it’s so much more than just food—it touches the heart to remember grandparents or parents who made this food.”
On the Map
The Piast crew has also expanded its capabilities for catering and events. On-premise catering takes place at the self-proclaimed “Castle” location at 1 Passaic Street, in Garfield. Here, the Piast staff conducts retail business on the first floor, while on the second and third floors, they hold birthday parties, communions, and holiday events in two 80-person rooms in this turn-of-the-century building.
“It’s historic,” said Rybak. “Babe Ruth used to live around here and he spent time on the third floor. We have old pictures from the 1920s. This used to be a bar and speakeasy with lodging. Babe had a corner room here and used to watch the racehorses by the Passaic River. We’re happy to show fans his room. And we even found a hole in the basement wall that we bet was a secret tunnel to sneak in alcohol from the river.”
New Catering Website
Most recently, Rybak disclosed a new addition to its website, which allows customers to order off-premise catering packages and food trays online for family gatherings, game days, office meals, and more.
“We’ve catered events at the Polish Consulate in NYC for 15 years,” said Rybak. “We’ve catered for Polish Presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Bronisław Komorowski, and Andrzej Duda at the Consulate as well as the United Nations. We do it all—even things like a whole-roasted suckling pig stuffed and decorated.”
A Meaningful Legacy
In 2020, Henry Rybak passed on, leaving his wife Maria and son Martin.
“He was the head guy running the show and it was a huge shock and huge loss,”said Rybak. “At that time, I decided to come back full-time to help my mom Maria to keep it going. I have many years of experience working here and came back doing the best I can to standardize the products and recipes to keep things fresh and consistent.”
In 1991, Henry and Maria opened the first Piast deli in Maplewood, NJ, after receiving their agricultural engineering degrees in their home country of Poland. After initial success in that location, they expanded to an additional store at 800 River Drive in Garfield.
“That was a big hit. People fell in love with the signature Piast kielbasa that we still sell today. When we added a hot foods department—we were the first store, definitely the first Polish store to do that,” recalled Rybak. “Stuffed cabbage, chicken cutlets, pork chops, and we’d sell them with mashed potatoes, a soup, and a side salad—back then it was $5.”
Not long after, the pair of entrepreneurs moved on from the Maplewood location and eventually expanded into four suites on River Drive as well as the “Castle,” on Passaic Street. Today, these locations are hubs for Polish culture and events like the Christmas Fish Market and outdoor Easter Market.
So, what is the secret to their success, one might ask? Customers continue to froth over everything at Piast—from cold cuts, hams, Canadian bacons, and smoked bacons, to smoked fish, pork roll, frankfurters, and even black pudding, breads, and cookies.
“There’s no real secret. We just make a good product and sell it fresh,” said Rybak. “Food was not meant to be stored indefinitely, it was meant to be made and eaten within a matter of days. It’s how it should be. We are blessed to have enough product to go around—we can afford to make it and sell it fresh. So, why would we not?”
“The real secret is our people and the passion,” he said. “We know our customers have a choice and we want to be the best Polish store possible. I thank everyone for their help and my mom Maria Rybak for keeping it going.”
Piast Meats & Provisions
800 River Dr.
1 Passaic St.