By EMMALEE C. TORISK
At 2:30 a.m., when most businesses on Youngstown Poland Road are long closed, John Pryjma is just arriving at his, preparing to bake the doughnuts and danishes that will be bought up during the morning rush just hours later.
It’s a schedule the 63-year-old Pryjma of Youngstown has gotten used to after decades of working at, and owning, Plaza Bakery.
But it’s something he won’t miss when he retires from the bakery business, whenever that might be.
What Pryjma will miss most are the people, including the loyal customers who stopped in as children and are now bringing in children of their own, he said.
“It’s personal. How often do you go someplace and the owner comes out?” said Pryjma, explaining that over the years, his customers have become his friends. “There are a lot of good memories here.”
Among those are recollections of his in-laws, Nick and Venice Mahinis, who opened Plaza Bakery in 1974. Pryjma, who lives across the street from the business, worked closely with them for a few years before acquiring the full-line, made-from-scratch bakery in 1984.
Not much has changed in the years since, except maybe the bakery’s decor.
Most customers know Pryjma as a diehard Cleveland Browns fan — with the burnt orange, seal brown and white helmet etched upon the bakery’s front door a strong indicator of his allegiance. And while the glass bakery cases with pastry-stocked shelves remain, the walls, too, are decked out with Cleveland Browns memorabilia — most of it purchased piece by piece over the years, and some of it gifts from customers.
He’s been a devoted fan since the 1964 NFL Championship Game, which he can recall watching on a black-and-white TV screen, but doesn’t mind all that much when Pittsburgh Steelers fans stop in to bug him.
“As long as you’re buying something, I don’t care what you say,” Pryjma said, laughing.
Pryjma added that he loves to talk with customers about the Cleveland Browns and practically anything else, with the exception of politics.
He’s long worked with people, he said, having worked for almost a decade in the grocery department at Fazio’s supermarket, and briefly bartending, attending the Ohio State Highway Patrol academy, and selling real estate.
Nobody loves to work, Pryjma said, but he’s glad he spent the better part of his life where he did, in the bakery business.
After almost 40 years there, though, Pryjma is finally beginning to consider retirement. His daughter and son-in-law, Venice and Thomas Tomidajewicz, are expecting their first child in May, and he put the bakery up for sale shortly after they got married last year.
His reason? Wanting to spend more time with his family, including his wife, Maria Pryjma.
“I was raised that way, that family’s important,” he said, adding that he’s received a few offers for his business, but hasn’t accepted any yet. “Whoever takes over, hopefully they know how to bake. It’s no big secret, although there’s a few recipes I have that others don’t.”
Pryjma said he knows his customers will miss him, but that he’ll stick around for a little bit after Plaza Bakery’s sale, just to ease the transition.
Mary Dutton, a Youngs-town resident who has worked at Plaza Bakery for almost 20 years, said Pryjma likes to joke that she’s not allowed to retire until he does. She works in the bakery’s front, ringing up orders and sometimes even handing out cookies to children.
Dutton explained that she’s stayed at the bakery for so long because working for such a “super” and “very caring” person, and working with a handful of equally wonderful employees, makes the workday much more pleasant.
“We do our job, but we also joke around,” Dutton said. “But when you enjoy your job, you don’t mind working.”
Plaza Bakery, located at 620 Youngstown Poland Road, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the bakery’s doughnuts, breads, cakes and other baked goods, call 330-755-4561.