While traveling to Ukraine to see family in 2018, Ilona Znakharchuk visited a pastry shop owned by a family friend’s daughter. Znakharchuk gained some new recipes and felt inspired to bring the Ukrainian pastry scene back to Boston.
“We were blown away by the pastry scene,” Znakharchuk, BC ’21, said. “Everything was so delicious and so pretty at the same time, and we came back thinking that it is something we don’t see in Boston.”
One of the recipes she brought back from Ukraine was for macarons, which became Znakharchuk’s specialty at Boston College. During her sophomore year, Znakharchuk spent her weekends baking at her home in Westfield, Mass. She would then bring her desserts back to campus to share with her roommates.
Five years later, Znakharchuk and her sister, Irina Znakharchuk, own Solodko, a Ukrainian bakery they recently opened in Brighton that specializes in custom cakes.
When she first started making her desserts at BC, Znakharchuk hesitated to sell them because she knew nothing about running a business. Eventually, one of her roommates persuaded her to create an Instagram page where she could promote and sell her desserts.
“The funny thing is, I didn’t put my name on it and I wanted nothing personally associated with it because I thought if this doesn’t work, I’ll just delete it,” Znakharchuk said.
Word spread quickly at BC—soon Znakharchuk received weekly macaron orders from professors and students. Znakharchuk said she would take orders on Thursdays and Fridays, bake over the weekend, and then deliver the orders to students’ dorms and professors’ offices.
During her junior year, Znakharchuk joined Start@Shea’s Accelerator Program. Through this program, which connects student entrepreneurs with mentors from the business world, she gained practical business experience. By the time senior year rolled around, she knew she wanted to continue selling baked goods full-time after graduation.
But things did not go exactly as planned. Znakharchuk accepted a full-time finance position at a wealth management company in Boston after graduation, running her baking business as a side hustle with her sister.
“We rented a commercial kitchen space, and we were working our finance jobs by day and then after work we would go on and make desserts,” Znakharchuk said. “After six months of working the full-time job and the business, I realized that this was not sustainable. Both my sister and I got really burnt out in those six months from the sheer amount of hours we were working.”
Znakharchuk said leaving her finance job was a hard decision to make—she enjoyed the job and did not want to leave it for a business that was not guaranteed to succeed. Yet, she was too committed to her business to completely close it. When she did not know what to do, Znakharchuk said she found her answer through prayer and felt that God was calling her to pursue her dream.
In May of 2022, Znakharchuk and Irina began looking for places to open a storefront bakery. In August, they got the keys to their current storefront in Brighton, and they spent the next few months renovating the space. Solodko held its grand opening in November of 2022.
The sisters work as a team to tackle the business and baking aspects of the bakery. From the start, Irina was responsible for arranging and putting together funding as she had prior experience in the corporate finance world. In the kitchen, they each have their specialties—Znakharchuk focuses on cakes and Irina focuses on croissants.
“The way we work on bigger projects is I usually work on the raw ingredients to make sure the creams, sponges, and everything that makes up a full dessert is ready and baked and made,” Irina said. “Then, [Ilona] comes in and assembles everything. She is more of the artist that decorates and I’m like a backstage person.”
What sets Solodko apart from other bakeries in the Boston area is its Ukrainian identity. Solodko makes a large selection of traditional Ukrainian desserts, including honey cake and strawberry poppyseed croissants. Beyond the kitchen, Solodko also works with local nonprofits and refugee aid organizations.
“My sister and I discussed how we want to be a safe place for refugees who are coming over from Ukraine right now to the Boston area,” Znakharchuk said. “Our first employee we hired moved from Ukraine to Boston a few months ago and it would be very hard for her to find a job elsewhere because of the language barrier. It’s been great working with her and helping her make a new home in Boston after having to leave her entire life because of the war.”
As a 23-year-old entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges Znakharchuk said she has faced is learning to manage the ins and outs of a small business. From baking to retail, marketing, and customer interaction, the three-person team at Solodko handles it all. Recently, the bakery drew more media publicity, which has presented additional unexpected challenges.
“It makes me so happy and it’s always such an honor when people come and ask us for an interview, but at the same time it’s only a very small snippet of our entire business journey,” Znakharchuk said. “In a way it’s like a highlight reel because you’re not going to sit there telling the reporter about horrible days and when your cakes fail. It can feel a little isolating and disorienting.”
Despite the challenges, Znakharchuk said she always reminds herself to stay disciplined in her work. This mindset has gotten her through the most difficult days of running her business, she said.
“There are going to be days when your motivation is not there and it’s just a hard day and everything goes wrong,” Znakharchuk said. “But if you have discipline and if you’re consistent, that discipline will get you through those hard days until you can get to a point where you have motivation.”
In the future, Irina said they hope to be able to open more locations in Boston so more people can access their business.
“For all of those who have been coming already, we’re happy to have you and hope that you are enjoying our products,” Irina said. “For those who haven’t visited us yet, we highly encourage stopping by and enjoying one of the croissants or trying out a different Slavic cake by the slice. These are flavors that you won’t find elsewhere, and we hope to continue meeting new people at our shop.”