Throughout the country, retailers and their supplier partners are doing fun and interesting things with pies.
Pie partnerships are bringing the pie business to a whole new level – and year-round – within the supermarket sector.
A year ago, Gelson’s in Del Mar, Calif., welcomed world-famous pie and coffee shop The Pie Hole, the Los Angeles-based bakery. Del Mar’s menu now features both traditional and modern and sweet and savory pie flavors as well as whole pies, signature Pie Holes (bite-size pies like donut holes), artisanal baked goods, empanada-style hand pies, and pie pints.
The Pie Hole started as a local neighborhood family pie shop co-founded by Sean Brennan and “Pie Mom” Becky Grasley in 2011, who shared her generations-old family pie recipes from Pennsylvania with a new community in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles. The Pie Hole currently has six locations in Southern California including Gelson’s in Santa Monica. The pie shop expanded its partnership with Gelson’s by adding three new outposts in the San Diego area, including Pacific Beach and La Costa/Carlsbad.
“We at Gelson’s are thrilled about this partnership because one of our goals is to support thriving local family-owned businesses,” said John Bagan, Gelson’s president and chief executive officer. “The Pie Hole truly embodies what I love most about Gelson’s — we are creators and purveyors of signature world-inspired foods with SoCal flavor.”
Menu mainstays include Mom’s Apple Crumble, Mexican Chocolate and Cereal Killer Pie, which has a vanilla wafer crust and a filling made with a cream cheese base packed with Fruity Pebbles and topped with Froot Loops.
“Our first retail grocery unit within Gelson’s was the first step of a new model for The Pie Hole brand, providing us a unique juxtaposition to offer our comfort food and specialty coffee alongside gourmet market options,” said Sean Brennan, founder and CEO of The Pie Hole. “Our partnership has proven to be an exciting match for consumers in Santa Monica and we believe San Diego is a perfect community that will embrace and understand why we serve pie and coffee, which is to bring people together with happiness one slice at a time.”
Gelson’s operates 27 premium food markets in Southern California. Each Gelson’s Market features the amenities of full-service fresh produce, meat, seafood, prepared foods, bakery, and floral departments, along with grocery departments stocked with the best local, specialty and organic products alongside national brand favorites. Gelson’s high standards for freshness and quality, unsurpassed service, and exceptionally clean and convenient stores define the ultimate food experience.
2. Kansas City
A similar relationship between pie maker and premium retailer exists in Kansas City, where Michele Mauden serves as vice president of sales and marketing for Tippin’s Gourmet Pies. Tippin’s works closely with Kansas City gourmet retailers such as Hen House Markets.
“We’re fortunate to have an experienced and proven sales leader joining our team,” said Robin Venn, president of Tippin’s at the time of Mauden’s appointment last year. “Michele understands the bakery business from every angle because she has worked in manufacturing, in grocery, and as a food broker. She’ll be a tremendous asset as we work to grow our business with premium retailers across the country.”
Looking ahead, August is National Peach Month – that glorious time of summer when peaches turn perfectly ripe. It’s that sweet taste of summer that makes Tippin’s Peach Cooler Pie so popular. The limited-time-only Peach Cooler Pie is available during August at Kansas City area Hen House Market stores and select Price Chopper stores.
Peach Cooler Pie starts with Tippin’s flaky crust filled with Tippin’s signature vanilla filling. After filling, the base layers are placed in the refrigerator to cool and set. Tippin’s uses only the finest, freshest ingredients, like these juicy peaches from Bader Farms in Missouri, according to the company. Each pie contains 1½ pounds of fresh peaches, which amounts to about 3 or 4 of these large peaches.
Scoops of hot Tippin’s signature peach glaze are poured over the peach slices. The pie then sits and cools again before the final step. Freshly whipped cream is piped around the edge and finishes with a whipped cream rosette in the center of the pie.
Holidays throughout the year offer creative pie opportunities. Earlier this year prior to Easter, Tippin’s promoted the sweetness of freshly baked fruit pies and the tangy goodness of lemon supreme or key lime pies. Tippin’s pies come in nearly all the flavors of jellybeans – lemon, lime, cherry, apple, strawberry, blueberry – and fruit pies are made with whole berries or slices of real fruit.
For those who love Cadbury eggs, they can choose Tippin’s Chocolate Walnut pie (formerly called Dixie pie). It starts with a layer of semi-sweet chocolate chips and a layer of English walnuts inside a flaky crust, and then it is topped with a rich, buttery filling.
In Michigan, where Achatz Handmade Pie Company is celebrating its 30-year anniversary, co-founder Wendy Achatz recalls their humble first home on Church Street in Armada, Mich., where the company started baking a handful of pies from craft-focused beginnings.
“Our business grew from there,” Achatz said. “It was really a great spot to start a business out of our home.”
Today, the company’s online business is booming, as consumers learn more about their delicious “pies that fly” mail-order program. In addition, Achatz handmade pies are prominently carried in gourmet grocers and supermarket chains such as Westborn Market and Whole Foods Market, in multiple flavor options like their signature Michigan 4-Berry (blackberry, blueberry, cherry and raspberry).
Sweet pies, fruit pies and even meat pies are specialties at Achatz Handmade Pie Company, which offers such unique flavors as lobster pot pie, spinach pot pie, and fruit pies including Michigan 4-Berry Cream or Banana Split pie.
Achatz Handmade Pie Company was founded by Wendy and Dave Achatz in 1993. The Achatz name may ring a bell. Dave Achatz is the second cousin of Grant Achatz, the world-renowned chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago. The Achatz families grew up on farms and worked in restaurants in Michigan, where they gained a true appreciation for the land and how natural ingredients play an instrumental role in the foods that we enjoy.
“Dave and I both know what purity tastes like, and our farm life taught us hard work, dedication and patience,” Wendy Achatz said. “This deep experience is what helped to establish our core values here at Achatz Pies — from teaching our next generation of pie makers and passing down traditions, to purchasing and using pure, all-natural ingredients from many local Michigan farms.”
In addition to wholesale, Achatz Handmade Pie Co. runs eight retail bakeries in Michigan, including its newest location (opened this year) in Bloomfield Hills, a northern suburb of Detroit.
Similar retailer-foodie connections can be uncovered across the country. Cecily Costa’s Food Shed Idaho offers unique, high-quality ingredients and regional gourmet brands like Piedaho, a family-owned bakery bringing award-winning pies from the beautiful mountains of Idaho.
“We use the best local fruit from farms like Kelley’s Canyon Orchard and Tubbs Berry Farm, and ingredients from companies like Bob’s Red Mill and Wheat Montana to ensure the highest quality, best tasting pie you’ve ever had,” the company said. “Each pie is handmade and uniquely decorated to make sure it looks as good as it tastes. We offer new handmade, fresh-baked pies each week based on seasonal availability.”
Fun pie flavors include Blackberry Balsamic Pie, which is “full of flavor and sass.” Sweet blackberries get a little zing from the balsamic, bringing out the layers of flavor in the berry. They balance this with just the right amount of sugar and a hint of black pepper. The pie, which comes in a 10-inch tin and serves 8-10 people, is fully baked, unique and frozen, and comes with instructions for thawing and serving.
Food Shed Idaho is a marketplace for “all the things I love, from producers I love,” according to Costa. “It’s also a place where I can get back to cooking. We have a commercial kitchen on site and are currently offering a wide range of baked cookies and brittle, focusing on local ingredients and sensitive diets. Many of the vendors Food Shed Idaho features are companies or farms I’ve known for years. In many cases, I have been to their farms or factories in the US, France, and Italy. These companies have a passion for authentically produced food with few ingredients.”
In Houston, Ann-Marie Tcholkian is one of the owners of the family-owned Phoenicia Specialty Foods, which employs 125 to 150 staff, and the restaurant has another 40. Lately, the Houston grocer has turned its focus more on internal operations: product line and customer service. “Definitely, people are looking for curbside delivery,” she points out. “We are happy to be offering it at this time.”
Meat pies are a specialty of this gourmet grocer, including beef sambosay, chicken puff, beef and potato, or lamb and potato.
Phoenicia Specialty Foods is a dream that started modestly in 1983. Arpi and Zohrab Tcholakian, formerly of Lebanon, and of Armenian descent, opened Phoenicia Deli, a 2,500 square foot, Mediterranean-style delicatessen, and grocery, on Westheimer Road, in Houston. In 2006 Phoenicia Specialty Foods was born, a 55,000-square-foot international food market that sat across the street from the deli. The enterprise has continued to grow ever since, and has tripled in size, thanks to loyal foodie friends.
“Our specialization in the food of the Middle East, Mediterranean, European and Eastern European regions helped sustain us,” Tcholkian said. “My parents, founding owners from the beginning, wanted to make sure we were not too specialized and also not too overreaching that we lost our strength, which was staying true to this niche and serving food we grew up with and that were part of our roots. Also, we amplified our ability to find ways to produce hard to find or labor-intensive foods.”