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New family bakery brings sweet taste of old-world tradition to town

Julia Meek/WBOI
Filled chimney cakes are a modern twist--literally & Timea creates their specialty, chocolate strawberry.

Chimney Cakes Bakery and Caffe, the brainchild of Timea Csibi and her son, David Berdan, specializes in its namesake, a unique Hungarian pastry, popular in their homeland, Romania.

When the family relocated to the United States for Timea’s husband’s job, she turned toward the familiar traditions of their heritage to ease the transition as well as preserve their roots and customs before new ways of living crept into daily life here.

Baking quickly won out as Csibi’s preferred method of expression.

And being from Oradea, an important economic, social and cultural center on the western border of Romania with Hungary, it was not surprising that the iconic Hungarian chimney cake with its Transylvanian origins became the family’s comfort food of choice.

Here WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses how that passion actually turned into profession with Timea and David, its evolution from farmer’s market stall to a new brick and mortar location at 1202 West Main Street and where this sweet business of “sharing a taste of home” is headed.

You can find store hours and a complete menu listing at the Chimney Cakes Bakery and Caffe website.

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

Julia Meek/WBOI
David showing off a fresh-baked chimney cake

Julia Meek: Timea Csibi, David Berdan, welcome.

David Berdan: Hello.

Timea Csibi: Hi, Julia.

Julia Meek: Now you two are all about the chimney cakes which you have literally introduced to Fort Wayne. These are quite large, hollow, tubular Hungarian pastries baked to order and they are absolutely heavenly! So let's start with just where your passion for baking all began, Timea.

Timea Csibi: Well, I think that it will be fair to say that it began at home with my mom. (chuckles) I'm not a baker by formation, but I definitely loved as a kid to do different pastries and cakes and cookies with her. And I just got to the point here where I missed some of those. And among those were chimney cakes.

Timea Csibi: Your favorite, at least a favorite?

Timea Csibi: Oh...yeah. Among my favorites. Yes.

Julia Meek: Okay. And so you brought your tradition, as well as your family to the United States. So very briefly, David, just how did your chimney cakes in particular help you acclimate and get your life together here?

David Berdan: Well, when we first moved over here, I was a little kid. So it was definitely a huge change. And I think having a little taste of home here is definitely a big comfort. But more exciting than that is bringing it and sharing it with the people here and inviting them in to kind of see what we're all about and what our culture is, and where it all comes from.

I've definitely gotten used to life here in the US since then, because you know, being an adult now, things are different. Having this chimney cake business is definitely a huge thing for me, because like I said, just bringing a taste of home to the people in Fort Wayne and inviting them to talk about the culture and experience something new because it's unique. There's really nothing else like it in the area.

Julia Meek: And it's a point of pride.

David Berdan: Definitely.

Julia Meek: Timea, is he telling us how your plan unfolded? Is this kind of why you started the whole thing, is this part of your motivation in getting that chimney cake out there?

Timea Csibi: Yes, I would say that he has a good point. We were missing the taste of home, you know, when you're far away from home, and all of a sudden, you have this nostalgia about places, people, taste, smells and this is what it was.

We were thinking, "Okay, how about baking some of the stuff that we used to and we bake that home?" And that was it. We were like, okay, this is so good. After testing a few recipes, this is so good. We kind of have to do something with it. (laughs) But yeah! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: So okay, all those good vibes are coming on. When did your passion turn profession? Was there a light bulb going off in somebody's head somewhere that you knew you were meant to actually put this out as a business?

Timea Csibi: I think that was the moment when we tasted it and we loved it so much. But then also, we got encouragement from friends here, and neighbors that tasted it. And they were like, mmmmm, this is really yummy. You should try to get this out somewhere.

The idea of farmers markets also came from people who tested for us our product. The idea of turning it into a business came from them, and also our desire to get this out and make people know about our culture by knowing this one particular food item that is part of our culture.

Julia Meek: Yeah so it certainly all makes sense (chuckles) and your business taking the form of farmers market.

Timea Csibi: Yeah.

Julia Meek: It kind of has its own built in support. Did it feel comfortable from that standpoint? It had to be scary starting your own business, of course. Did you know you were looking to start a bakery business?

Timea Csibi: I knew that I wanted to start baking the chimney cakes. And I would say that starting a business here is not that difficult. So don't let, you know, this scare you or anybody thinking about starting a business.

Obviously, there's a lot of work and the farmers market I would say was such a huge help for us meeting the vendors, meeting the organizers, meeting customers there--that just added to our, you know, idea to bring this to another level and then start looking for a brick and mortar or maybe a mobile unit at that point.

Julia Meek: So you already knew that might be in the future?

Timea Csibi: Yes, we were already kind of thinking about it.

Julia Meek: Okay, so learning curves included, how did the journey go would you say David?

David Berdan: I think the journey so far has been really great. You know, starting off with a farmers market was a really good opportunity to like she said, meet people and really get ourselves out there and now having the brick and mortar allows us to go even further with what we like to offer people you know.

We're never going to stray away from our classic chimney cakes. We're always going to stay loyal to like what the chimney cake is all about. But having the brick and mortar allows us to add new flavors and you know new creations to our menu that would not be possible at a farmers market because of the size limitation, mostly.

It is all really exciting definitely, I mean, just looking back, we started almost two years ago, and how far we've come to present day is really inspiring. And I think it shows a lot of growth that we had as a family as a business. and you know, definitely more plans for the future and just excited for what it holds.

Julia Meek: That's great to hear you say that. You took on a lot of responsibility. It sounds like this has been plenty of work for all of you and it also sounds like it's been a lot of fun. Timea, how did you manage to trick everybody into thinking such hard work was so much fun. (chuckles)

Timea Csibi: I think it was mainly the idea that this is part of our heritage, I feel this is very important for me and I wanted to hand this down to my children coming to the United States, a huge move for us.

And I wanted to teach them that this doesn't mean that you give up a culture and the language that you already have that you were born with. But you are adding to it, adding a new culture, adding a new language, new knowledge, so it was more kind of attracting this way, attracting them to do it and obviously it's fun.

I mean, you roll a dough, you put it on a stick, and then you bake it and it's really yummy at the end. Of course, it's fun! (laughs)

Julia Meek: It almost sounds like a little infomercial right there and that's a great one. (laughs) Thank you for that. Now, I am kind of curious, could you have even anticipated the popularity for these little treats?

David Berdan: Oh the support from the community has been amazing. so far, I mean, we have only been open with the storefront for about a week. And we've got people coming in and out of the store. Our opening weekend was so busy people could not find a place to stand because it was so packed.

We could not be more grateful for that--people tagging us on social media and I get notifications on my phone of people leaving reviews on Google and how much they love our pastries. It's really motivating for us to keep going. We never would have expected our storefront to get the attention it did.

We were certainly hoping that people are going to come and check us out. But I don't think any of us expected you know the sheer volume of people that showed up just opening weekend. I think it's awesome to see that.

Julia Meek: That's fantastic. You're also in a very handy place right on West Main way. So you have the city, you have people coming into the city, you have walkers, bicycle riders, people on the trails, parks, just everybody hungry for a little bit of tradition, a lot of love and good food and you've got that going on.

Now let's face it, there is a fine art to every pastry and Timea you call yours simple, yet a unique treat that brings magic to your taste buds, which I know that's true. (chuckles) What secrets can you divulge, though, Timea about this whole experience?

Timea Csibi: I think that the biggest secret is to make it with love. And that's not just a cliche. I even told my kids you have to watch that dough and care for that dough and make everything possible to make a perfect cake.

Obviously it's not going to be perfect because it's handcrafted. We are people not machines making this and that is also why it's so unique. I don't think that there is any other secret here. It's a simple dough. that's why I say it's simple. The magic to your taste buds is due to all the flavors that we are able to put on the outside of these pastries.

Julia Meek: Texture too then?

Timea Csibi: Yes.

Julia Meek: Freshness has to factor in there too.

Timea Csibi: Yes. Fresh! Always baked fresh!

Julia Meek: To order, right?

Timea Csibi: Yes.

Julia Meek: Now chimney cakes themselves? They come in both sweet and savory varieties. How wild and crazy can you get with the tastes combinations?

Timea Csibi: Chimney cakes are traditionally the sweet ones. We do bake savory, that is like a modern addition to the chimney cake family, that's how we say.

You can get crazy; anything that you can get stuck on that pastry basically adds a flavor to it. And we started with less flavors, we went on...these days we have Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Oreo dust added to the chimney cakes.

And the savory ones? Let me tell you, there are fans that come in only for the savory ones.

Julia Meek: Yes. Everybody's very, very excited, folks and we're happy that you brought this treat to us.

Timea Csibi: Thank you.

Julia Meek: The most irresistible appeal of these little devils: Can you eat just one?

Timea Csibi: You probably would like to taste more flavors, so you will not stop at one! (laughs)

Julia Meek: That's very, very good. And okay, a word on your wonderful roots. Your hometown, Oradea, is one of the most important economical, social and cultural centers in the western part of Romania where you're from.

How much of this and yourself actually are a direct product of your environment, would you say?

Timea Csibi: Yes, I would say so. Born and raised there. It is a beautiful city, not a big one so don't think about a metropolis. But what is really defining, Oradea is the mix of cultures, is the living together of different ethnicities, there are Romanians, Hungarians, a huge Jewish heritage in that town, which makes people more open, more understanding.

And I believe that that's me, too. I'm always curious to talk to people, always keen on sharing my heritage too, but also finding out where they are from, about their traditions, about food. I think that kind of defines me and that upbringing that that city gave me is still in me, and it's still making me you know, share with the world and make people understand how living together will make you a better person.

Julia Meek: And David, your, your mother's son, does any or all of this rub off on you, if we're talking nature and nurture combined?

David Berdan: Yes, for sure. Even though I've only lived a smaller part of my life there, I think definitely, the culture has been a big factor in making me who I am. And just the fact that I was exposed to a mixed community of different people, I mean, I myself went to a Hungarian school.

And I had done the, a good part of my elementary school, and I came over here when I was going into sixth grade, so I've only really been in school in the US since middle school. I think the chimney cake is always going to be a part of my childhood, and also a part of like the city where I'm from.

And it's definitely helped me shape me into who I am. That's why I'm so excited about this business and sharing it with the people of Fort Wayne, because it's a little piece of me and I think it's special to be able to put that out there and share it with other people.

Julia Meek: And by the way, since the brick and mortar shop is open and running by now, what's next?

Timea Csibi: Oh my goodness, uh, well, the next would be to really make the best use of this space and to reach out to new people, to get new customers. As we are a new business still, we will be making mistakes. I mean, that's how you grow.

That's kind of the first step to be better at what we do, always try to offer the best product to the best of our abilities. And the fastest that we can even though they are handrolled always so it takes time.

And for the future, who knows? Maybe a new store, or maybe a mobile adventure to be able to go to festivals or special events.

Julia Meek: So more chimney cakes...

Timea Csibi: More chimney cakes...(chuckles)

Julia Meek: ...on the way.

David Berdan: More chimney cakes...(chuckles)

Julia Meek: How does it feel to be the people that brought chimney cakes to Fort Wayne, Indiana?

Timea Csibi: it is special, it is overwhelming, sometimes, starting the business in a new country, trying a new product and offer it to people, hoping that they will like it.

Julia Meek: And they like it!

Timea Csibi: And they like it. It's also a huge responsibility because you have to keep that quality. And that's what we intend to do.

Julia Meek: We're glad to hear it. And last question, folks. What has all of this adventure taught you about yourselves as well as your new community that you have made your home?

Timea Csibi: It taught us that people are open and caring, I would say. It's not all about, you know, the hatred that you see around you. They are curious, they like to start conversations. And this is huge for me.

I love people and I do believe that people are good in their core. The biggest lesson for me was that even if you are in new, let's say strange for you world. If you are open and you start conversations, it can only lead to something good.

David Berdan: Well, I think it's taught me personally that if you really put your mind to something, it can only lead to good. Seeing success is usually a long road and you have to start somewhere.

Even if we couldn't get the storefront right away we made do with the farmers market. And now it has finally led us to our first brick and mortar shop. Seeing all the support has been amazing and such a good experience.

It's really taught me a lot about how to work towards your dreams. I think I've grown a lot since we started the business and the only way to go is up from here. We're really definitely excited to see what the future holds.

Julia Meek: Timea Csibi and her son, David Berdan, are founders and owners of Chimney Cakes Bakery and Caffe. Thank you so much for sharing your traditions and your story with us, folks. Do carry the gift.

David Berdan: Thank you.


A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.