6 Questions with Kolache Factory COO Dawn Nielsen

    The "pandemic comfort food" helped the growing brand bounce back.

    Dawn Nielsen.
    Kolache Factory
    "I hope kindness and compassion are two things COVID leaves behind," Nielsen says.

    My parents started Kolache Factory in Houston in 1982. I watched them build it from the ground up, first as a single kolache shop, then they added more stores and started franchising in 2000. As with any business, there were a lot of ups-and-downs, whether it was the economy, trends in the food industry, or when my mother—a co-founder with my father—passed away. There were always new challenges to navigate. Once I took over leadership of the company in 2004, I still looked to my dad for his sage advice, but also embraced putting my own mark on the company. I grew in confidence as we introduced more and more Americans to our Czech-Tex inspired stuffed pastry.

    Then came COVID-19—and rocked everybody’s world. It wasn’t like anything any of us had ever seen. There were scary days when things were changing so fast, it was hard to plan for the week, let alone the future. But even during all the uncertainty, I can see now how much more connected we all became, even in our relative isolation. Caring for the human condition became priority number one and it drove our decisions each day—even when we didn’t know what the day would bring. My amazing team went to work immediately to make sure our stores and employees were safe and protected so we could keep our doors open to safely serve customers—who, thankfully, still wanted to eat kolaches.

    READ MORE: Why Kolache Factory is a Best Franchise Deal for 2021

    Then our focus turned to those who, in many ways, were keeping our country afloat—our healthcare heroes and first responders. With a renewed sense of purpose, we launched the Kolache Factory Cares initiative through our Fueling the Frontline and Adopt A Frontline Hero programs. We gave away tons of free kolaches to frontlines workers and encouraged others to do the same. One of our franchise store owners put it perfectly when he said, “I can’t cure anybody, I can’t fight fires, I can’t do police work, but I can feed people, so that’s what we’ve decided we are going to do. This is about more than food, it’s about community. Its about showing people that we care. Kolache Factory cares.”

    Today I can say we have been fortunate, which would have been hard to say a year ago. Our restaurants rebounded more quickly than others as people discovered our freshly made kolaches were the perfect pandemic comfort food. I think coming out the other side, all of us at Kolache Factory are more connected and more appreciative of each other and our communities. I hope kindness and compassion are two things COVID leaves behind.

    What was your first job?

    Kolache Factory! When my parents opened the store, I was 9 years old and was scrubbing dishes, floors, and baseboards. By the time I was 12, I started waiting on customers. Kolaches and customer service are in my blood.

    What’s your favorite menu item at Kolache Factory?

    Ham and Cheese is one of our originals, so it will always be my favorite. Although when I was a kid, it was the pizza because I always fed them to my teammates on away games and everyone loved them. My old standard has to be Bacon, Egg, and Cheese but recently I’ve been reaching for the Sausage, Jalapeno, and Cheese. I can’t pick just one!

    What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Kolache Factory?

    If we are eating out, Indian. If we are staying in, a good steak dinner or Mexican food are my favs.

    Who inspires you as a leader?

    I would have to say my Dad. He struck out on his own and built this restaurant brand from the ground up. I will always admire his commitment to his vision of producing a high-quality product with a focus on customer service, and his years of hard work to make it a reality. Also, he is the kindest person I know and everyone at Kolache Factory adores him. I am so proud to be his daughter.

    What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

    Be kind to yourself and your employees.  Do what it takes to get the job done but allow those around you the space to do their jobs, so you are reaching your goals as a team. Don’t be an island. Valued employees who believe in you and your product are the #1 key to your success—don’t ever lose sight of how important they are to your organization.

    What are some of your interests outside of work?

    I love cooking for my family and taking care of all my animals! I have quite the menagerie. Bees, cats, horses, my goose Bob, and my prized heifer Charlotte who we raised from an orphan. We are one big happy, crazy family. So, I really like to be at home or at the family ranch when I’m not working to unwind and recharge.