Watching Chad Slade make kolaches is surreal. The man is big – a former offensive lineman for Auburn, he also played for eight years in the NFL – so seeing his huge hands gently fill and shape the little pastries is riveting.
But the owner of American Kolache in Vestavia knows how to whip up some baked goods, and he does it well.
Football is how Slade came to know about kolache in the first place. When he was a rookie with the Houston Texans, he was tasked with fetching the team’s orders from The Kolache Factory several times a week. It was a long walk between the store and the practice field (he didn’t have a car in Texas yet and there was no DoorDash then), so he helped himself to the kolaches in the bags he was carrying and grew to really like them.
Kolache (pronounced kuh laa chee) is big in Texas. In the mid-to-late 1800s, immigrants from Moravia and Bohemia (what is now the Czech Republic) settled in communities in east and central Texas (known as the Czech Belt), and they brought this culinary custom with them. Traditionally, kolaches are sweet – filled with preserved fruits like prunes and apricots or poppyseeds, or sometimes a sweet farmer’s cheese. American versions are much more freestyle and include endless varieties of savory fillings that are a tasty contrast to the slightly sweet dough.
Slade says, “I think Texas is the one that really put the swagger to it, put the sausage and gravy into it and all the other breakfast and lunch stuff into it. Of course, you know, Texas does it big. They had to put all this stuff in one little bun … that’s what makes it so good. It really is good, I can’t lie. I love it.”
He’s such a fan of this comfort food that he decided to make it his second act in life.
“I Googled Alabama,” he says, “to see if there was anything like this; there was nothing like this. So, I decided I needed to make that move and bring (a kolache store) to Alabama, and that’s what I did.” There are other places that sell kolache – places like Shipley Do-Nuts and Buc-ee’s, which, as Slade points out, are Texas-based stores. “But this is the first actual kolache store in Alabama.”
It’s a family business he owns with his mom and stepdad. Slade opened it in July 2022. This Vestavia Hills location is the first franchise in Alabama for the Saint Louis, Missouri-based American Kolache, and Slade, who grew up in Moody, has plans for more locations in his home state. He says he’d like to open one in Auburn. “That’s my goal. That’s my school, that’s my home. War Eagle to all the Auburn fans. I know they will love it down there.”
Slade, who played professional football for the Houston Texans and for the New York Giants (which made his late father especially proud), says he drew from lessons learned on the football field to make this business work.
“Yeah, it’s a lot different trying to be in business as compared to being on the football field. But I’ve kind of used my mechanisms from being coached and being hard-nosed. … Because, of course, you still have to be a leader being the owner of a restaurant. So, that’s what you get from being on the field – the hard work and the dedication that it took to get to that point, you have to put into your business as well.”
Popular versions for breakfast include the sausage and gravy and the ‘merica with sausage, gravy, egg, bacon and hash browns. “Lunch-wise, I’m a spice guy,” Slade says, “so I like the buffalo chicken with chicken, bacon and ranch.” People also like the Philly cheesesteak, and the spinach and artichoke usually sells out. There are new flavors introduced all the time (Instagram will let you know) including cheeseburger and a really tasty crab Rangoon. There’s even a pizza kolache and a jalapeno popper version. Slade’s store offers some 35 different fillings, mostly savory but some sweet, too, including the bestselling apple pie and a double chocolate brownie.
He teamed up with some other local businesses to make his store unique among the other American Kolache locations.
“I’ve got JaWanda’s Sweet Potato Pie” as a specialty,” he says. “And it’s a good seller.” Another top seller is the kolache filled with Dreamland pulled pork. “You can’t go wrong with Dreamland. … Dreamland’s been here for so long. I’m just thankful for them to help me out and to be able to use their product here.” He serves Red Bike Coffee to go with his pastries. “They’ve been here since day one,” Slade says. “That’s the best coffee by far I’ve had. … We like to support local business. … I don’t forget where I came from. I want to be local. And I want to make sure that Birmingham knows that, at the end of the day, we still care about Birmingham.”
He says Vestavia Hills has been especially welcoming to his business, and he has customers all over Birmingham and beyond; people visiting the area from Texas love to see his shop. American Kolache caters, and Slade does pop-up shops around town, especially at local hospitals. (Again, Insta will tell you where.) He’s not afraid to hustle. “We’ve been moving all around,” he says. “We’re just trying to make sure that we get our business and our name out there.”
This business seems like a good next step for Slade.
“I’ve been so much into the football. For 12 years, I’ve been on the football field, and now I gotta transition to … something different. This is something that has been helping me transition from being an NFL player to being a regular person again. It’s incredible just to see, you know, the support I’ve had from my city, the support I’ve had from Birmingham and the support I’ve had from my friends and my teammates and all that. They’ve always asked, ‘How’s that business going?’ And I love to tell them. Because … this is something that I decided I wanted to do. This is something that’s helping me transition from football over to the regular side. … Leaving football is all about mentality. … You’re going to miss the game. This is how it is. But at the end of the day, you have a place you can go to where you can smile, and you can call yours. Where you can see people come in and support it. That’s one thing I love about it.
“I’m just most proud of being able to, like I said, call this my own and have great people around me. I have a great support system: my mom, my stepdad, my wife, my kids, everybody that’s supported me through this journey. And now we have something that we can call our own, something we can build on and grow as a family.”
When asked why a food business instead of something else, Slade says, “I wanted something to leave a legacy for my kids, something that would be easier for them to run once they get older and get to that point where they want it. … Our goal, of course, is to get more shops out in Birmingham … We want to have them all across Alabama. That’s the goal. To leave a legacy for my kids. … You just never know; tomorrow is not promised. That’s why I’m trying to make sure that my kids and my family are taken care of. When everything is said and done, I just want to make sure everybody’s good.
“It’s a very personal thing for me,” Slade says. “I kind of try to use that as motivation for me, and I wanted to use it as motivation for my kids and my family to make sure that I’m always going to do whatever I’ve got to do to provide for them and make sure that they’re good. So, I’m never going to not be able to do that. That’s just how I am. I’m the dad figure. I’m the caring person. I’m overprotective. That’s just how I am. That’s how I always was going to be. That’s why I played offensive line. I like to protect people. … I protected people my whole career; I protected people for 12 years, and I’m still protecting people to this day.”
1031 Montgomery Highway
Vestavia Hills, Alabama 35216
Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Catering: [email protected]