Zhelyazko “Jak” Latinov ran a popular bakery in his native Bulgaria. Now, after three years of hosting pop-up events and selling at farmers markets around Pittsburgh, he’s opening a location in Bloomfield.
Jak’s Bakery will open at 4310 Main Street in late 2022. The space is located right next to Brewing tracewhere you can stock up on its Eastern European specialties on Sunday, February 20 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Prior to the opening of the new storefront, customers can follow Jak’s Bakery on social media for upcoming pop-up events.
When Latinov was 6, he decided he wanted to be a baker. Now 41, he is thrilled to share his passion for Bulgarian pastries with Pittsburgh.
Latinov and his wife Molly Freedman Latinov, an American, met while she was on a Peace Corps assignment teaching English to students in her hometown. Right away, he wooed her with offerings such as Banitsa, a savory pastry made from phyllo dough filled with feta cheese and eggs.
In 2013, the couple passed the reins of their hometown bakery in Bulgaria to its longtime manager and moved to Highland Park with their two daughters. The family became regulars at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in Homestead. Founded in 1930, it is the oldest, largest, and most active Bulgarian-Macedonian organization in the United States.
The Bulgarian community is thriving in Pittsburgh; last year, another Bulgarian, Tzveti Gintcheva, opened Bocadillos Bar in Brighton Heights.
Latinov started cooking for club celebrations, as bread is an integral part of Bulgarian life. There are special breads for births, weddings, funerals and even baby’s first steps. Kozunak, a braided bread, is an Easter treat that is eaten at home and given as a gift. Kifla is a crescent-shaped pastry made with a sweet yeast dough that is usually filled with rosehip jam, vegan halva, Nutella or cinnamon, and sugar. Latinov puts a Middle Eastern twist on the traditional treat by adding sesame seeds to give it a richer flavor.
His food was so popular that people outside the community began requesting unique items for their dinner tables. Using the kitchen of the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in Homestead as its headquarters, Latinov cooks seven days a week to meet demand.
“It’s a lot of manual work; you can’t do it with machines,” says Molly Freedman Latinov.
Because Latinov is unable to source all Bulgarian ingredients, he experiments with locally available options to create his own treats, including a prosciutto roll reminiscent of a pepperoni roll. On the soft side, Pogacha is always a hit. It’s similar to baklava, with three layers of sweet yeast dough and syrup-coated nuts when hot from the oven.
“It’s pretty easy to tweak a recipe,” says Molly. “Understanding what people want is the hardest part.”