Rolling in the Dough

Autumn Johnston’s childhood was spent helping her grandmother cook in her neighboring Peninsula kitchen. They made pierogi, dumplings, lasagna, and many other dishes to feed more than 30 family members every Sunday. Grandma fried up the freshly made potato and cheddar treat in butter for her to taste while they worked. Standing on a stool next to her, Autumn fell in love with her grandma’s cooking.

As a child, Autumn didn’t know that these Sunday rituals would lead her to a career in pierogi-making. It wasn’t until she was laid off from a restaurant job that she took the leap to start her own business. Autumn launched The Pierogi Lady in 2011 in Akron. “We made $400 at our first farmers market. I thought, they like us; they bought our stuff,” Autumn said, recalling the emotions associated with her initial Tremont Farmers Market sales.

Over the past seven years, her business has grown to nine employees, including her partner and boyfriend, Marcus Walker. As the company grows, Autumn says the quality stays the same. Her pierogi have no preservatives, and many varieties feature ingredients local to Northeast Ohio. She credits her Gram’s dough recipe as the reason all her creations—ranging from savory, sweet, and vegan—taste so delicious. Today, she makes more than 130 varieties of pierogi, from Gram’s potato and cheddar to French onion soup, chicken paprikash, sauerkraut, and sausage. Autumn continues to experiment with new varieties and is developing a gluten-free version.

Making homemade pierogi can be time-consuming, and most families would prefer to spend their valuable free time with their families instead of in the kitchen. “One of the reasons I started my business was because I just couldn’t find good pierogies at the grocery store . . . nothing like my Gram’s,” Autumn said. That’s certainly not the case anymore. As the latest winner of Heinen’s Shark Bank local business competition, Autumn’s pierogies are now available at Northeast Ohio Heinen’s stores. The Pierogi Lady’s pierogi can also be found at local markets, festivals, and regional restaurants.

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