Two masters they were, whipping loaves of freshly-baked bread, savory piroshkis and other Russian and Ukrainian specialties into being without recipes.
As seen through the eyes of the little girl looking on, mama and grandma seemed to pull the food out of the air.
“It was like magic to me,” Oksana Lusnikova recalled of watching the women at work in the kitchens of her native Crimea. “I couldn’t understand how they did it without recipes. It took me more than 20 years to learn.”
But learn she did.
Thumbing her nose at the pandemic since the last days of May, Lusnikova’s been tempting locals into Pie Style, her pint-sized bakery at 1111 East Main St. to sample the sweet, the savory, and everything in between that smacks of her native land.
Like her napoleon cake, her breads, her cheesecake and her monastery hut, all of it made on site, every morsel from the oven, none of it from frozen or prepackaged stuff.
Fancy cupcakes, pies with pumpkin and spinach and cheese? She’s got those, too. Or, if you are in the mood, come in for a cup of coffee.
“We try to bake simple products, whether that is just dough or cheese or something like that, and without a lot additives there,” Lusnikova said. “I think it’s healthy and delicious food, and maybe interesting for people who want to try something new.”
The goodies, which she and her lone hire, Dayle Cantellay, mix and bake every day, contain a minimum amount of additives, but are made with organic sugar, unbleached flour and other healthful ingredients.
One of her top principles may sound curious to Americans: food should be small.
“So, if you buy something like a piroshki with beef or chicken, you eat just one, and it’s enough.We don’t use pork, I don’t like pork, I just bake here what I love. It’s true,” Lusnikova said.
“And we only use icing when it’s needed,” said Cantellay.
“We are not a big business, we are very small,” Lusnikova said. “Just our hands and two small ovens. We bake every day for people.We have a lot of good food. “
Only thing: wedged in-between a laundromat and a grocery store, Pie Style is easy to miss. But take the time to scout it out.
Lusnikova’s family operated a grocery store in Crimea, and that’s where, she said, she learned what it means to use top-of-the-line products in her cookery.
“Lots of products at stores are not real, laden with additives. I wanted to create a healthy family,” Lusnikova said.
Also, for a year before emigrating, the family owned and operated a restaurant.
Lusnikova, her husband, Pavel, and their two sons, 17 and 7, moved to the United States 3 1/2 years ago from Crimea to be near Pavel’s mother, who’d arrived 20 years earlier.
Pavel got a construction job.
At first, Lusnikova was achingly home sick for her family back in her homeland, the only world she had ever known.
“I just wanted to go home. I would just look at planes in the sky and I wanted to go there. It was not so good for me. Every summer we go there, but this summer not because of the virus,” she said
She learned to speak English at Green River College one year ago
“We shared about food rules and everything. It was very interesting for me and useful for everybody. That’s when I knew I wanted to open a bakery and share my culture with everybody,” she said.
Then she got busy with the thousand, tedious tasks that any prospective business owner must complete before opening day, trips to the health department, visits to the city, to this and that building official.
Her equipment she got at auction: one oven for the piroshki’s, the second for everything else. Her husband built the counters and shelves in what had been a computer store.
The days are long, 17 or more hours, starting at 5 a.m. mixing and baking til 9 sometimes until noon. Sometimes her son comes to help with the cleaning.
Lusnikova explained the biggest difference between her homeland and the United States.
“Here I feel a big support from the American people,. not from Ukrainian and Russian people. It’s true,” she said sadly. “There are critical comments on Facebook. I want to do better, and want to show people we can do better. You want to do something for people, not just for yourself.”
For the people aghast that she dared to fire up her two bakery during a global pandemic, Oksana Lusnikova has a simple answer.
“Because the world needs good food.”
Indeed, the world does, and Auburn’s newest bakery is a good place to get it.
Pie Style is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, 9 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday. It also offers take-out.