For the love of pie!

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In the last two and a half years, since I started Teeny Pies, I’d estimate that I’ve made roughly 60,000 pies, give or take a few, and needless to say in order to retain some semblance of my sanity the process has become a bit routine. Mondays and Tuesdays were for rolling out crusts and gathering any ingredients that I hadn’t picked up at the Saturday farmer’s market. Wednesdays were for peeling or chopping fruit and mixing together copious amounts of savory pot pie filling. Thursdays and Fridays were building and baking days, where previously rolled pie shells were filled with delectable fruit fillings or succulent savory fillings and then baked to a beautiful golden brown. Once they’d cooled they were packaged, stickered, and stored for the following day’s market. Fridays and Saturdays were market days, where friends and strangers alike laughed, ate, danced, sipped their morning coffee and supported small businesses.

Holidays, weddings, family reunions and other various special events meant extra pies but the basic weekly routine stayed the same. Every so often, I would work up the energy to bake at home but more often than not I would simply bring any unsold farmer’s market pies to dinner parties, picnics, or friend gatherings rather than spending any outside work time even thinking about pies. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love making pie (thank goodness) and consider myself insanely lucky that I managed to finagle a professional pie making life out of the universe BUT it’s been rather a long time since I’ve baked for pleasure rather than to make a living.  

Which is why getting to spend the next six months in  Danville, Kentucky is so magical! I get to bake pies for the pure joy of it again. I get to try new recipes that I’ve been dying to try for the last two years but haven’t had the time or energy to attempt. I get to experiment with farm fresh, seasonal produce obtained from the side of the middle-of-nowhere-country road. I don’t have an apoplectic fit if something goes wrong or a new flavor combination tastes decidedly funny, because I’m only making one rather than one hundred. I get to dream in pie again and it’s going to be an e-pie-cally insane summer of baking. 

Here’s the working list to flavors to experiment with: 

strawberry rye      blueberry oatmeal      pepperoni pizza     brisket pot pie    clementine cream     butter chicken curry      veggie curry w/ potato and peas      lamb & lentil      apricot & ricotta     brulee banana cream      dark chocolate & roasted almond      white bean & rosemary galette  

What do you think? Pretty stellar start, if I do say so myself. I can’t wait to throw professionalism out the window and dive into my flour bin headfirst. Strawberry rye and blueberry oatmeal have both been resounding successes and while I’m sure there will be a few duds here and there, I’m pretty thrilled to once again be able to bake for the love of it. There’s always an extra apron in the kitchen if you’re in the neighborhood and feeling up to the challenge of dreaming in pie!  

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blueberry oatmeal

Sneaky Researchers, Inc.

I’ve recently reached the market analysis portion of my business plan and it’s a bit of a doozey — mostly because we’re trying to choose between three different cities. The bits detailing our products from our customer’s perspective, our ideal market and my personal favorite, general marketing strategies to prove pie is essentially a food group, are fairly easy and straightforward to write. I’m lucky to have spent the last three years learning the answers to those questions firsthand from real life, Teeny Pies customers. 

But, it started to get a little tricksy when I realized I needed some very specific information about the competition in three different cities … none of which I live in yet!

Of course, some of those necessary numbers were found with borrowed library cards and a quick call to a couple of rockstar research librarians. I had no idea that it was in their job description to be a huge help to people trying to start a business. Libraries are the best. I’ve also been able to garner a lot of information from online reviews, because people love to internet. All this, plus a few online databases, have helped to paint a fairly clear picture of the competition but there have also been a few holes simply because a lot of the businesses that I’m looking to compare myself to have been smaller and privately owned, making those numbers a little harder to come by.

All of my “How to Write a Business Plan” manuals have suggested subterfuge, i.e. spying by pretending to be a customer, which I am all for. I love checking out the vibe of a place while hoping to catch a glimpse of what helps make it successful, and subtly writing down how much everything costs. Eventually, when we visit our three perspective cities, we will get to check out these bakeries firsthand and I’m definitely going to wear a wig and speak in an accent. I’m a killer spy. But, our city visits are a little further down the road and I’m writing the plan right now.

So, I’ve been thinking… what if, in addition to starting my own pie shop, I also started a consulting business that specifically helped other small businesses with this issue. Sneaky Researchers, Inc. A consulting business dedicated to scoping out the competition through thorough and inventive retail reconnaissance. What a mission statement!

The small business owner or entrepreneur would give us the names of their top three key competitors they were planning on using in their business plan and we would go do the subtle snooping; surreptitiously snapping pics of menu boards or craft coffee offerings, quietly counting customers on a busy, brunchy Saturday, and of course taste testing all of the doughnuts on the menu. My rather loud and suspiciously casual, “So, how much do you think they make annually?”, may need some work but I definitely think we’re on the right track with the wigs. 

Sounds excellent, right?! I think it’s gonna be my money maker while I fundraise for my pie shop. In the meantime, who wants to pop into the newly opened Humble Pie in Colorado and tell me how much their pies cost?

Sneaky Researchers, Inc. 

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this post brought to you by borrowed library cards

Slow and Steady Wins the Race… Right?

I’ve spent the week educating myself on all the world of food funding and I have to say I’m super disappointed over the disparity between funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, where small businesses are least likely to reach their fundraising goals and larger investment groups that require you, the small business owner, to have stolenconfiscated, obtained, made between $100,000-$500,000 dollars in seed money before they will help you raise your next million. If I were making $500,000 dollars a year I wouldn’t need an investor in the first place. Nor do I feel entirely comfortable asking for the entire cost of my small start-up from strangers — albeit, presumably pie loving strangers, but strangers nonetheless — in a crowd.

Admittedly, I still have a small understanding of everything that is out there and I’m still in the early stages of learning about micro-financing vs. crowdfunding vs. straight up investment, but there seems to be a distinct lack of helpful funding for someone like me; someone in the in-between. Someone from modest beginnings, in the pursuit of pie happiness, who is not looking to make a million dollars by shipping teeny, frozen treats of delight halfway around the world. Despite the idea being hugely tempting — think of all the kitchen gadgets I could buy — I think simply being the proprietor of a lovely little shop where they sell handmade and heartfelt pies is more my speed.

I know the statistics. I know 95% of these businesses are funded solely by friends and family. I know that these are the types of businesses that most often fail, which tends to make financial institutions want to run in the opposite direction, alternately laughing and screaming as they tear up my business plan and use it to mop up their hysterical tears.

Because of the lack of options, over the last few weeks I’ve been made to feel alternately that my dream is too unstable for banks and too small for the rest of the world. My business model doesn’t fit in with the current trend of billion dollar businesses bursting onto the scene overnight. With platforms like Shark Tank and Circle Up looming large in the background, I’ve had countless people suggest I change my plan to become the next biggest, best, buyable business and while that could be something to consider for the future, it’s just not at all what I dream of doing.

Every morning I want to wake up at 5am and open the doors to my very own neighborhood pie shop. I want to bake pies that take time and use seasonal produce, procured from local farmers who have also become friends. I want to serve fresh pies that make our customers think of home when they take their first bite. Most of all I want to continue to grow this company with the slow thoughtfulness and hard work that has made it a success so far and have that not seem small.

Slow and steady wins the race … right?

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