Coney Buns being prepped for the oven, while cooked buns are being prepped for slicing on the conveyor behind at B & J Baking Company.
Our beloved Cincinnati Chili Industry, like the Automotive Industry, has what I call Tier II Suppliers. These are the companies that make some of the components that go into a meal at a local chili parlor. These are often items we forget about, but are as important a component as the secretly guarded chili recipes. You can’t have a car without an airbag, made by a Tier II supplier. And you can’t have a threeway without spaghetti and oyster crackers, made by a Tier II Chili supplier. One of the most important of these Tier II items is the coney bun.
In the 50s and 60s, my grandparents were one of these local Tier II suppliers of coney buns and chili burger buns to the Dayton Chili Parlor, across the street from their bakery in Dayton, Kentucky. The Christofield family, who owned the chili parlor valued the proximity of my grandparents bakery and the fresh quality of their buns. I never had the pleasure of tasting a Dayton Chili Parlor Cheese Coney with one of my grandparents’ fresh, dense egg buns. But I did get to hear a glaring testimonial of how good they tasted from the daughter-in-law of the owner when I interviewed her for my chili book. Oddly enough, the old Dayton Chili Parlor came up for sale five days ago. I hope someone buys it and recreates the chili parlor tradition served by the Christofields for nearly 80 years.
Today the largest supplier of coney buns to our local chili parlors is B & J Baking Company, on Colerain Avenue in Northside. Owned by Macedonian immigrant, Steve Toleski, they have a long legacy of supply and operation in the local chili arena. A family owned wholesale baking company, they’ve been making and supplying quality coney buns for the chili industry since 1932. If you’ve ever had a delicious cheese coney at a Skyline chili parlor, you’ve tasted one of their buns.
B & J buns are inspected before being packaged to be sent to Skyline chili parlors around the region.
Klosterman Baking company also makes coney buns, but they don’t have the legacy in the chili parlor industry that the Toleski family has.
Owner Steve Toleski’s father was Alexander Tolevich (1909-1991). Alex came to this country in 1933 from Bolno, Macedonia, which later became part of Yugoslavia, after World War II. After working for Ivan and Athanas Kiradjieff at the Empress Chili Parlor, Alex would operate the Liberty Chili Parlor in Covington, Kentucky, on Madison Avenue, near the Liberty Theatre. Coincidentally, Alex’s sister, Luba Tolevich Naumoff and her husband Kime, would operate another Liberty Chili Parlor in Northside, in what had been the Liberty Theatre on Hamilton Avenue.
Alex Tolevich fraternizes with some of his customers in the 1960s at the Liberty Chili Parlor.
The change of last name from Tolevich to Toleski exhibits the complicated ethnic crisis happening in the Balkans between World War I and World War II. The Macedonian/Bulgarian vs the Slavic variations denoted which side you were on or what group you felt safest with which to be identified both in the region and over here in America. It’s kind of a similar, although more complicated version of the whole back and forth with the Alscace-Lorrain region on the border of Germany and France. The Tolevich/Toleski family did a great job of integrating into and even fostering and creating Cincinnati Culture in our Chili industry and for that we should be immensely grateful! One of Steve’s three daugthers, Lori Toleski Russell is Vice President of B & J Baking, so the coney bun business will continue on into the next generation.
Steve Toleski, owner of B & J Baking leads a tour of his facility.
Coney bun dough resting and proofing at B & J Bakery.
The large dough mixer and conveyer oven used to make coney buns at B & J Baking.