Zhelyazko "Jak" Latinov has an eye for Bulgarian goodies. Photo by George Stratiev.

Zhelyazko “Jak” Latinov ran a popular bakery in his native Bulgaria. Now, after three years of operating pop-up events and selling at farmers’ markets around Pittsburgh, he’s opening a location in Bloomfield.

Jak’s Bakery will open at 4310 Main St. in late 2022. The space is located right near Trace Brewing, where you can stock up on his Eastern European specialties on Sunday, Feb. 20, from 5 to 9 p.m. Before the new storefront opens, patrons can follow Jak’s Bakery on social media to find out about future pop-up events.

Zhelyazko “Jak” Latinov. Photo by George Stratiev.

When Latinov was 6 years old, he decided he wanted to be a baker. Now 41, he’s excited to share his passion for Bulgarian baked goods with Pittsburgh.

Latinov and his wife Molly Freedman Latinov, an American, met while she was on a Peace Corps mission teaching English to students in his hometown. Right away, he wooed her with offerings such as Banitsa, a savory pastry made from phyllo dough that’s filled with feta cheese and egg.

In 2013, the couple passed the reins of the hometown bakery in Bulgaria to its longtime manager and moved to Highland Park with their two daughters. The family became regulars at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in Homestead. Founded in 1930, it is the oldest, largest and most active Bulgarian-Macedonian organization in the United States.

The Bulgarian community is thriving in Pittsburgh; last year, another native Bulgarian, Tzveti Gintcheva, opened Bocadillos Bar in Brighton Heights.

Latinov started baking for the club’s celebrations, as bread is a large part of Bulgarian life. There are special loaves for births, weddings, funerals and even a baby’s first steps. Kozunak, a braided bread, is an Easter treat that’s enjoyed at home and given as a gift. Kifla is a crescent-shaped pastry made with a sweet yeast dough that’s usually filled with rosehip jam, vegan halva, Nutella or cinnamon and sugar. Latinov puts a Middle Eastern spin on the traditional treat by adding sesame seeds to give it a richer flavor.

His food was so popular that folks outside of the community started requesting the unique items for their dinner tables. Using the kitchen at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in Homestead as his headquarters, Latinov is baking seven days a week to meet the demand.

Zhelyazko “Jak” Latinov throwing phyllo dough. Photo by George Stratiev.

“It’s a lot of manual work; you can’t do it with machines,” Molly Freedman Latinov says.

Because Latinov is unable to source all Bulgarian ingredients, he experiments with locally available options to create his own goodies, including a prosciutto roll that’s reminiscent of a pepperoni roll. On the sweet side, Pogacha is always a hit. It’s similar to baklava, with three layers of sweet yeast dough and walnuts coated with syrup when it’s hot out of the oven.

“It’s easy enough to tweak a recipe,” Molly explains. “Figuring out what people want is the hard part.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.