One of the sweetest diversions in the 200 miles between Dallas and Austin sits behind the gleaming yellow fan of a Shell Gas Station. In West, Texas, just past the gas pumps in a large, wood-paneled building, you’ll find Czech Stop & Little Czech Bakery, purveyor of fresh Czech pastries—along with the coffee, travel pillows, and tamales that make it a Texas rest stop.
Many of the pastries that fill the wide deli cases are variations on the kolache (koh-LAH-chee) and klobasnek (kloh-BAH-snik), respectively the sweet and savory versions of a yeasty, stuffed Czech pastry that is one of Texas’s beloved road foods.
Kolaches are the pride of the “Czech belt” of central Texas. In 1859, a Czech reverend moved to the state to preach to local German Protestants, seeding a diaspora that now includes over 200,000 Texans of Czech descent. West, a town of 3,000 people that state officials have named the “Czech heritage capital of Texas,” saw its first Czech residents—farmers drawn by accessible land and a railroad depot—in the 1880s. Today, 75 percent of the town claims Czech heritage, and its residents dance in the Westfest Czech & Polka festival, pray at the Czech Protestant Brethren Church, and buy traditional Czech dresses at a local store.
West is also rumored to be the birthplace of the klobasnek. Whereas kolaches—traditionally filled with cottage cheese, poppy seeds, and fruits—were brought to Texas by Czech immigrants, West’s Village Bakery claims that it invented the klobasnek in 1953 by encasing a kielbasa in kolache dough. State officials have since declared West “Home of the Official Kolache of the Texas State Legislature.”
In the 1960s, Interstate 35 turned the rural town into a highway stop, and 15 years later, Bill Tolk founded a gas-station convenience store called Czech Stop to cater to the influx of travelers. With time, the convenience store’s pastries outshined the rest of its goods, and Tolk expanded the store’s bakery into the adjacent liquor store, adding “Little Czech Bakery” to Czech Stop’s name.
Today, Czech Stop is I-35’s gateway to the Czech Belt’s baked delights, drawing some 600 far-flung visitors daily to this Central-Europe-meets-Central-Texas town. As Czech Stop welcomes visitors from all over the state, so too does it welcome myriad ingredients into its pastries. After filling up their gas tanks, some travelers clamor for the cream cheese kolache the bakery adapted from a local grandmother’s recipe; others for a pepperoni, pulled pork, or jalapeño sausage klobasnek. This is Texas, after all.