Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Interview with a Baker: Erin of Pie Sisters

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Erin from Pie Sisters.   She and her sisters opened their shop in Georgetown this past January and have been receiving rave reviews ever since.

When I walked into the shop it felt like I just walked into a country home. With "If You're Gonna Play in Texas" playing in the background, this pie shop feels like it should be in the South.  However, sitting here you have views of Rosslyn and the Key Bridge, plus some prime people watching of those strolling through Georgetown.  The decor is absolutely perfect for a pie shop and only compliments the delicious pies.  The picture of two of the sisters during construction of the shop, that hangs in the shop, lets you know how much love has gone into building this pie shop, and everyday in the making of the pies.  From savory to sweet, Pie Sisters serves up fresh, seasonal and delicious pies.  

I brought two back to the office, and James may have even used the word phenomenal when describing the chili pie.  The filling in both the chili and the chocolate bourbon pecan pies were absolutely delicious, and the crust was incredibly flaky.  Plus, it was so nice to sit down with Erin and learn from her experiences over the past year.  So, to say the least I would highly recommend stopping in Pie Sisters next time you are in Georgetown.

A quick tour around the shop...

I want this cool!

They nailed country chic on the head!

Pies at room temperature: chocolate bourbon pecan, apple and pumpkin spice....

Pies in the cooler: coconut cream, chocolate cream and the savory ones (chicken pot and chili pies) are hiding outside of shot in the bottom right.

Such cute holiday packaging!

Left to right: chili pie and chocolate bourbon pecan pie.

Then the whats, whys and hows with Erin...

What is your favorite type of pie to eat?
Honestly its totally seasonal, because in the summer time when you have all of the fresh berries and peaches coming in, there is nothing like a peach pie in the height of the season. That's the cool thing about pies that it changes with season.  That's why we keep everything seasonal, so when fall runs around you have the pumpkin, the bourbon chocolate pecan and the warm s'mores pie. Where you wouldn't really want that in the summer time. I guess it depends seasonally. 

Do you have a favorite type to bake?
I think it varies, some are easier than others, less time consuming. I think each pie is so particular that sometimes you get sick of baking one pie and then you can go on pealing apples or baking vanilla cream which is a lot different than doing a blueberry.

Do you prefer double crust or crumb topping or if it's say pumpkin pie, straight pumpkin?
It depends on the pie. Pumpkin, I like straight pumpkin with a little whip cream for sure.  For pies I particularly like the crumble top, but it's a little bit more, a little extra but that's what I like.

Outside of pie, what is your favorite type of dessert?
My mom makes and amazing carrot cake, and I am not a cake type of person, but I love carrot cake.  My mom makes a Texas sheet cake which is awesome, and some cookies.  My sister makes an awesome chocolate chip cookies. 

What made you and your sister decide to open a pie shop?
Two fold, we had always wanted a business together.  My dad has his own business, my grandfather has his own business, on both sides. So I come from a line of people who go against the grain and who want to do their own thing.  Ever since we were little I knew I wanted to have my own business, and I grew up baking pies with my mom.  They say when you own your own business you have to be passionate about what you are doing, because as you know your work becomes your life.  If you are not enjoying your own work, it affects every aspect of your life.  

We were brainstorming, and I worked in fashion before this, and thought that would be kind of cool to have that as a creative outlet. To be able to create clothes, looks and stuff like that.  That was always sort of on the table, but my sisters didn't know too much about that, and I kind of wanted to do something different.  When we thought about it, pie kind of made sense because it's something we all love to do, and it brought everyone together.  It's not just about the pie, it's about the experience.  Food brings people together, and around the holidays that's a good remembrance about everyone coming together and drinking, laughing, eating pie.  

It was something that I knew, not that I was a professional about it.  I wasn't a master pie baker by any stretch of the imagination.  My mom has an amazing peach pie, her college roommate's grandmother has an amazing blueberry pie, and then her apple pie is awesome.  So, that is where we started.  We realized we needed more than three pies to open a pie shop, so my sisters and I were like we really need to get books and start experimenting and practicing.   If you put enough hours towards anything, you can come along way.  Ali and I were just talking, about how far we have come just in terms of confidence with everything.  When we first started we made two of everything, for every order.  We had to taste it to determine alright this is good to go, and that was a disaster; just in terms of timing and everything.  It took us twice as long to do everything.  Opening a store you can't really do that.  

What was the vision behind Pie Sisters, the look and feel of the shop?
We have a very particular vision, we always wanted to...well you know, you think of pie you think of tradition.  You think of warm, family; everyone has a story about pie.  Pie is specific to the South, different cultures, different nations. Taking all of that but making it more up to date.  Everyone loves pie, but why don't we see it?  The only pies you can really get are the disgusting pies you can get at the grocery store, that feel like a brick.  So, basically making pie more accessible and making it the cool thing. How do you do that, while still keeping the tradition?  We didn't want to go modern because that destroys what pie is all about.  Keeping the country warm feeling, almost a country chic experience.

What is the best selling or signature pie for the season?
For the fall and winter our bourbon chocolate pecan is sort of our signature.  For the summer time we do a strawberry lemonade and a strawberry pie; but blueberry pie. People always ask what are best selling is, but it's funny because we haven't been in business for even a year yet.  It's not like we have knowledge to go back on.  What we bake is what sells.  One day people buy out the chocolate cream and the next they buy out the pumpkin.  I think everyone has their particular favorite.  People will come in here every day and buy the same pie, the same cuppie everyday.

So, you were in fashion before deciding to open a pie shop, so what was your sister doing? 
She was in finance.  She started here and then moved to New York.  Then was back here working for a contractor for the state department, but she wasn't happy doing that. 

What is the toughest part about owning your own business, and starting it since you are within the first year?
Training and personnel because you can have an amazing concept, but the execution of it is tough; there are only so many hours in the day that we can be here.  All the way from having the right bakers that you can trust with your recipes and letting go and trusting people.  That is super, super hard.  We found an amazing pastry chef that works in the back with us.  We have a couple of the other girls in the front that are now the face of the company. It is something we didn't foresee as being such a big part of the business.  So, its not just about baking pie, it's about the customers and the experience; how our staff interacts with the customers and then putting in systems that work.   This business works completely different from the cafe next door or even another bakery.  Our concept and what we want to do is so different than any other business.  You can take ideas from another businesses, but it's specific to your business and how we want to run it.  Everything from how should an employee should answer the phone; do they do it the same way every time   How do they take an order?  Simple systems that you just don't think about are the nitty gritty.  The day in and day out is the toughest.

What is your favorite part about owning your own business?
To see everyone's reaction to it.  The positive, to see people experience your product and hear people talking about what you're doing.  To see them enjoying your creation, and sharing with people my experience.  There is so much to be learned from opening your own business.

Who or what inspires you in life and when you are thinking up new pies? 
I think in terms of creating things, I am sort of my own inspiration.  I think of what do I like, what would I eat. I think like that would be a good creation and then you try.  We are constantly trying to be creative, looking through other recipes and seeing other people's different combinations.  There is one thing I learned from my last job, and that was from my boss who said you don't always have to try to reinvent the wheel.  There are certain flavors out there that work well together, so absorbing everything and then testing it out.  Its fun to create and we have a creative team back there that we keep going.  We now get different events coming in and different people.  We are now putting our own pies in restaurants, and creating pies specifically for them, for their menus.  There is always something new to be created.

What one tip would you give to someone hoping to open a bakery someday?
Do your research and make sure you standout from everyone else.  That was the biggest part of our success. Not being like everyone else.  Everyone told us we should have cupcakes, that we should be this.  I can't tell you how many times.  It's scary, going and doing something different.  Everyone was like "pie,"  like for the holidays. People told us flat out and you have to have pretty thick skin, because they will shoot you down and say that's a stupid idea.  But when we opened that's how we got all of our marketing.  Every news station came because they were so glad we weren't a cupcake shop.  I guess do your research and have a product that doesn't have to be so crazy, just different enough and see if the market needs it.  Will someone buy your product in the area?  

Before you opened a pie shop, outside of work, what could you be found doing?
I love music. I play the piano and that's a big passion; going to live concerts.  Hanging out with my fiancee and spending time with him.  He has been gone for four years and is just back, so a lot of my extra time was spent traveling to see him.  Hanging out with my family.  I am really close to my mom and we go on shopping trips and hangout.  We are very family oriented.

What dessert or just pie, defines your personality?
Umm...maybe the bourbon chocolate pecan pie.  Everyone says I have the hardest personality.  As loving as I am, I can be just as overbearing.  So, the pie is super sweet, but so much of it can kind of be too much.  I can see that about myself; I am extremes, I am the middle child so that might have something to do with it.

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