Dorothy Malczewski started making butter lambs in the kitchen of her East Side home in the early 1960s using the wooden mold her father brought with him from Poland.
She would eventually sell her butter lambs in seven sizes from her chicken stand in the Broadway Market, introducing them to generations of families as an Easter-time tradition.
Mrs. Malczewski, who retired in 2007 from Malczewski’s Chicken Shop, died Saturday in Buffalo General Medical Center. She was 89.
“Nobody decorated the butter lamb like my mother,” said Jim Malczewski, who took over the business. “The red ribbon started it. We used to make the alleluia flags by hand with red tape and hand-cut toothpicks. I’m talking thousands of toothpicks. My mother was always thinking.”
Though Mrs. Malczewski did not invent the lamb figurines, she was responsible for popularizing them, beginning in the 1960s.
“Another company, Buffalo Butter, was making butter lambs at the time,” she said in a 2006 interview. “The Buffalo Butter lambs were nice, but they were small. I thought, this gives me an idea to make some more attractive lambs. I thought there must be a different way to make prettier ones, not only for our Polish people, but to let all of us enjoy a lamb on the table at Easter.”
News of Mrs. Malczewski’s death saddened many of the merchants at the market, who on Tuesday remembered the “Chicken Lady” as a tough businesswoman.
”When you worked for her, you worked hard,” said Daria Parker of Lewandowski Produce. “She was always at the stand for Easter.”
Malczewski’s Chicken Shop patrons purchased more than butter lambs. At Thanksgiving, fresh turkeys were sold by the truckload, recalled Jim Malczewski.
Joseph Petruso managed the Broadway Market in 1988 when it celebrated its 100th birthday. He recalled Mrs. Malczewski’s generosity.
“She was very good about giving food to needy people,” said Petruso. “She was very generous. She made her butter lambs legendary, a very popular business.”
A turning point for the butter lambs was the addition of “curls,” according to Jim Malczewski.
“A friend suggested doing curly lambs,” he recalled. “We took a 2-ounce lamb, whipped some butter and used a pastry bag to decorate it. The business just kept growing and growing. Its lambs grew from 4 ounces to 6 ounces to a 10-ounce lamb. There were actually seven different sizes, including a 3-pound butter lamb for banquets that cost $15.”
The increasing demand through the 1970s pushed Mrs. Malczewski to purchase a house on Gibson Street across from the market to churn out more lambs. Through it all, she mixed her diligent work ethic with a zest for fun.
“My mother couldn’t sing a note,” said Jim Malczewski, “but her friends sang at the Chopin Singing Society, so she belonged and partied with them.”
This Easter, Mrs. Malczewski visited the market, where the butter lambs are now sold by Camellia Meats. She bought 110 butter lambs for her fellow residents at ElderWood Village in Cheektowaga.
Recently, Jim Malczewski said, he found an old wooden butter lamb mold that he wanted to give his mother.
“I’ll put in the coffin,” he said. “Ma can take it to heaven.”
Mrs. Malczewski’s husband, Raymond, a U.S. Army veteran, died in 1993. In addition to Jim, she is survived by two other sons, Carl and Donald, and a brother, Peter Gondek.
Prayers for Mrs. Malczewski will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Pacer Funeral Home, 2275 George Urban Blvd. in Cheektowaga. A Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 10 a.m. at Resurrection Church, 130 Como Park Blvd., Cheektowaga.