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Sweet profits

Pyrohy by any other name apparently does taste as sweet. The traditional Ukrainian dish is also known as varenyky or cheese buttons. In other cultures, the stuffed pastas are called kase knoephla, vereniki or pirogi. For more than 15 years, the U...

Pyrohy by any other name apparently does taste as sweet.

The traditional Ukrainian dish is also known as varenyky or cheese buttons. In other cultures, the stuffed pastas are called kase knoephla, vereniki or pirogi.

For more than 15 years, the Ukrainian Cultural Institute President Agnes Palanuk has worked to get her pyrohy in front of as many potential customers as possible.

"There's a demand there; it's a unique item," Palanuk said.

She's expanded into Dan's Super Markets across the state, two state wholesalers and prepares shipments throughout the country.

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As the "V/P business" as they term it at the cultural institute, continued to grow, Palanuk and business secretary Ellen Klym realized they needed guidance before expanding.

"I got a call just out of the blue that shocked the heck out of me from the Ukrainian Cultural Institute," said Dr. Charles Conrick, assistant professor of business and finance at Dickinson State University. "As we started to talk, it fit in perfect with my corporate finance class, because we were talking about cost analysis."

Klym said two days after calling DSU, Conrick and two students visited the cultural institute.

Along with students Wesley Krebs and Lee Hutchinson, the business department's first finance major, Conrick started from scratch to determine a current cost analysis.

"Those two students were very interested; they genuinely cared," Klym said. "I was very grateful for their help. It gave us a good starting point."

A cost analysis

Klym said as part of the Ukrainian Cultural Institute's strategic plan, the board members want to increase V/P production.

Klym said they thought to call DSU because the Ukrainian Cultural Institute has always had a good relationship with the university. Conrick said DSU business students worked with the institute about a decade ago as well.

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"I give them all the credit in the world for talking to us," Conrick said. "You go to a doctor when you're sick, not a lawyer."

During the second meeting, they sat down for more than two hours to discuss every aspect of production. Conrick said they set out to find every single thing that went into making a cheese button, what they were paying for it and what the variable costs were. Fixed costs included the ingredients for the buttons and variable costs included packaging.

"We need to do right by these folks," Conrick said.

Prior to teaching, Conrick has years of experience working in the private sector doing similar consulting work, but on a larger scale, and definitely not with cheese buttons.

"I think during our study, we found their pricing was such that they seem to be doing OK," Conrick said.

They weren't, however, setting aside money for some of the larger variable costs, like their button-making machine and walk-in freezer.

Conrick said as they look to expand in the future, they may need to consider setting aside even more to prepare for the next levels of production.

Klym said as the institute considers the next step, she realizes it has to be a giant leap.

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"We have to get very big, so we can get full-time employees at a good price," Klym said.

Looking to the future

Though the cultural institute is a non-profit, it can make a profit on its products. Klym said as production grows, she and Palanuk have plans to expand the museum part of the institute.

"Agnes really wants to push the education part of it," Klym said. "The symbols mean so much. We don't want to lose it."

Regardless of how much the V/P business grows, Klym and Palanuk agree the important part is keeping the Ukrainian spirit alive.

One thing is sure, though, the business is growing. In just the past two months, the institute has sent pyrohy packages to Maryland, Florida and even Hawaii.

Klym said people want something their mom or grandma used to make, but don't want to take the time to prepare it themselves.

Palanuk continues to focus on expanding in the region, as she plans to visit grocery stores in Grand Forks and Fargo for taste tests. Klym would even like to expand into the Internet market.

"They might need further consulting and I hope they call us if they do," Conrick said.

He said the next step would be to conduct a demand analysis to see what the local, state and national market would accept the traditional dish.

"We're going to take all of his suggestions into consideration," Klym said.

It seems like this could be the start of a beautiful, and tasty, friendship.

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