John Visnefski has one eye on the prize this year as he gears up to enter his third Kielbasa Festival in Plymouth. He already has three runner up victories: second place in fresh, 2012; second place in fresh and smoked, 2013. So, could this be the year that he walks away with that elusive first place trophy?
“Yeah, it would be awesome if I took first place this year, but it doesn’t matter,” Vishnefski, owner of Tarnowski’s Kielbasa, Nanticoke, said. “A lot of people make good kielbasa.”
He hesitates and then adds laughing, “But mine is better.”
This is the 11th year for the competition which celebrates the Polish sausage so popular in the Wyoming Valley area. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, and Saturday, Aug. 16, in downtown Plymouth. It started with about 10 vendors and has now grown into a full-size two-day festival which features about 100 vendors, live music and more. A parade will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday. The competition among area meat markets for best smoked and fresh kielbasa will begin at 1 p.m. at the American Legion on Center Avenue.
Will Bosack’s Market of Olyphant and Komensky’s Market in Dupont continue their winning streak?
Vishnefski calls participating in the event a win-win situation since it takes him into the field to meet perspective customers and to serve up lots of kielbasa. He sells prepared sandwiches as well as rings of both fresh and smoked kielbasa wrapped up to go.
Terry Womelsdorf, president of Plymouth Alive!, which organizes the annual event, said the festival aims to spread the seven kielbasa vendors throughout the city’s blocks. “It would be detrimental to place two kielbasa vendors next to each other to sell their items,” he said. “But we also want people to walk through the town and take in all that we have to offer, while enjoying a kielbasa sandwich.”
But kielbasa isn’t the only ingredient that goes into this festival. There’s a mixture of music from 17 different entertainers on two stages as well as craft and merchandise vendors (65 and counting) with candles, jewelry and antiques. “We have everything in town that your heart would desire,” Womelsdorf joked. “Or, there isn’t anything at the festival you need that we don’t have.”
And that certainly includes the menu. Should the Polish sausage that’s Lord of the Rings at this festival not be to your liking, you can sample gourmet wine slushies, funnel cakes, gyros, apple dumplings, pierogies, fudge, Black Angus steak sandwiches, haluski, Welsh cookies, pulled pork sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.
Vishnefski is introducing a new item this year, merging kielbasa with two ethnicities into something he calls Polish Nachos, which feature taco shells, kielbasa, cheese, sauerkraut and homemade horseradish sauce.
Just what is the appeal of kielbasa? It’s versatile as it can be cooked a variety of ways and eaten hot or cold. There’s kielbasa sandwiches and kielbasa on a stick. “I like to experiment and keep coming out with new things,” Vishnefski said.
The sausage maker often takes suggestions from customers. “A lot of people have been requesting cheese and jalapeno in their kielbasa,” he said. “I also make turkey kielbasa, which is great for people who can’t eat pork. I doubled my sales in turkey kielbasa last year.”
Just entering the Kielbasa Festival is a challenge for vendors, who must bring enough meat and supplies to serve festival-goers over a two-day period while keeping their stores open in their own community. The hours are grueling from 5 a.m. to midnight both days. “It’s a lot of work,” Vishnefski said. “I try to make enough kielbasa so that I sell every last drop there. It’s a lot of preparation, and a lot of transporting. But once you get there, it’s fun. And it becomes more fun than work.”
And, just in case you’re wondering, yes, Visnefski does go around to other booths and sample the competition’s offerings at the festival. “I like to try them all,” he said.
Plymouth Alive! has used the proceeds from the Kielbasa Festival to benefit community projects. If you’re walking around the town this weekend sampling kielbasa, check out the 30 different flower barrels on the streets. That was one of the beautification purchases the group made from event proceeds. Their most recent donation was purchasing a complete computer system for the Plymouth Police Department.
Womelsdorf said many people plan their class and family reunions around the event. “The biggest accomplishment we’ve made is bringing people to our town,” he said. “We want people to come into our town and spend money. We went them to visit our store fronts and businesses. For two days, this event brings a breath of life into our community.”