“Everyone who comes in has very warm and happy thoughts about pies,” explained Nancy Blau, one of the two proprietors of Simply Pies. “We ought to put together a book of everyone’s pie memories.” In fact, pie memories are what helped Blau and partner Hana Miller launch their project in July 2008. “I grew up in Ohio, and my mother and all my aunts were bakers,” Blau said. “I always wanted pie, not cake, for my birthday.” Miller added, “We work together in our day jobs [in IT at Superior Court], and we’re always scheming to do something together. We both love to cook, so we worked hard to develop our own crust to mimic what we had growing up.”
That crust-a perfectly balanced combo of flake, crisp, and moistness-didn’t happen by accident. “It took at least a couple of months and at least 30 to 40 recipes,” said Miller, who was a biology major. “With baking, it’s a science, and you have to have the right proportions.” The goal was even more elusive as the two didn’t want to use butter or lard (as if that even needs to be said) and they wanted to use only certified organic ingredients. Once they nailed it-and no, they won’t tell you their secrets, but they will sell you pie shells to fill at home-they knew they were in business. Now they’re even working on their organic certification.
Simply Pies also developed a gluten-free crust. “We worked for more than two months on getting that as close to ‘regular’ pie crust,” said Blau. “The response from the gluten-free community has been amazing.”
Community is a key word for Simply Pies. “That’s what’s great about the community,” said Blau. “We all work together and support each other in being successful.” Using the Isla Vista Food Co-Op, where you can also buy their pie crusts, as an example, Blau explained, “The Co-Op has been fantastic to us, allowing us to order all our flours and sugars at wholesale. It’s tough to buy in bulk when a business starts, and they really helped us out.”
Blau and Miller also work with community farmers, from Tutti Frutti Farms to Lane Farms. Because they depend on locally grown fruit, you can’t always get the pie you want, but you will only get one with the freshest fruit. Peach and strawberry-rhubarb might be sold out for the season, but apple and pumpkin can now take its place. Miller admitted that they do have a special recipe for their pumpkin filling, but then she just stopped talking and looked away without revealing any secrets. As for the apple pie, she said, “We use a blend of three, and they change according to what’s fresh and what we like. Granny Smith is always one.”
While the store is called Simply Pies, it’s not “just” pies, for they also offer cheesecakes-from Madagascar vanilla bourbon to dulce de leche-and quiches such as caramelized onion and mushroom with Gruyre. “We can’t just survive on pies,” Blau slyly suggested. “My husband loves cheesecake, and that’s what he wants on his birthday.” Miller added, “We wanted something savory, too, and that’s how we got the quiche.”
In general, business has slowly but steadily simmered for the company. “We feel extremely fortunate that we are almost always growing,” Blau said. “So many people come to us and say this is where to go when you want to get a good pie. Hopefully, we are here to stay.” Those people who used to have to call or email to place orders and then set pick-up times are also taking advantage of the recent addition of regular Saturday retail hours. Many also purchase the popular take-and-bake options, so their own homes can have that delicious just-baked smell as well as the final yummy product.
Not surprisingly, it takes a village to build a Simply Pies. “Our husbands have been very helpful, and we do get the whole family in here, and we bake together,” Blau said. “Hana just had a baby, and she brings it here. I also think it’s a good lesson for my daughter, Amanda, to see the hard work and then reap the reward. When people come in and say how good the pies are, it’s a really good lesson.”
Trust the crust and great fillings at Simply Pies, located at 2611 De la Vina Street. Call 715-3485, or visit simplypiessb.blogspot.com. Either order by phone or visit the Saturday retail hours, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.