The Ups and Downs of being an Entrepreneur 

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

As you may or may not know, I have a little pie company. It started as a dare, a lark. It has taken me on a varied journey of successes, never really making a killing but moving forward, or should I say zigzagging forward. I sold 3000 on QVC and 100’s after a Today show segment. I also sold hundreds from my own website, but continually lost money due to the astronomical shipping charges. Customer service has always been my first priority. If there were a problem, I’d send another one, no questions asked. When someone would ask me to make a sugar free pie, I would do it. If a local person wanted it baked, I’d do it. My friends would say, why don’t you just say no?  That was not in my vocabulary. I wanted to please everyone!

The large pies can be somewhat problematic. For one thing, they weigh approximately 4 ½ lbs, rock solid frozen…like a frozen basketball. If for some reason the dry ice all dissipates after it was delivered to someone’s back door…disaster. I do love those big pies and may go back to shipping them but this year, on a flare up of ambition I sent a sample (that turned into 10 samples) of my mini apple pies to Williams Sonoma. Turns out they loved them. They called me and asked if I could make a pumpkin version too, and as usual, I said yes…help me please! For three weeks I asked all my friends if they had a great recipe – no one responded. After as much procrastinating as possible I finally started my own research and experimenting…low and behold I came up with something and sent it off to them…they LOVED them, even more than the apple!

I had little apple leaves on my samples, but they had a great set of leaf cutters that they thought would be really great…so I picked the ones I wanted and sent more samples – now they really loved them. It was a go! Ever since my QVC appearance, I have had an industrial kitchen (co-packer) make the pies with and for me. It was all set up to go forward with William Sonoma and then two weeks before we were to go “live” the co-packer said they could no longer make them…poof…now what?

I was in a panic – how would I make 12,000 mini pies alone? Everyone is handmade, just as I would do them at home…very time consuming. I paced around my office for hours, picking up the phone every ½ hour to call the whole thing off.  I knew if I did that, it would be the end of the pie biz. Plus I knew I just had to keep my word at all costs! I started franticly calling any connections I had made over the years, asking questions, getting information and other contacts. Finally I decided to come clean with Williams Sonoma. I figured if I explained my plight, maybe we could all come to a win/win solution.

They were incredibly understanding and helpful. They really are an amazing company. They came down to southern California and we looked at different kitchens that could produce the pies to my standards. We found the most amazing place. We made several batches and they turned out perfect! I was back in business, only to be met with another glitch – they could not make the 12,000 leaves. If fact no one would. My former co-packer never even mentioned it as a problem…yikes. What could I do except say, “I’ll make them.” Shockingly I have made the 12,000 already. I could do an infomercial for their little leaf cutters…12,000 and still going strong…amazing.

Now I get another call from Williams Sonoma saying things are going well, so let’s plan another run, meaning 12,000 more leaves for me. I feel like Lucy in the candy factory “speed her up”…

As always, with these sorts of things, all the “I can’t do it” apprehension turns out to be a lot fun. I play big band music and friends stop in to see my progress, hang and chat. My one helper and I now know EVERYTHING about each other and I have known her for years. I suppose rolling dough for hours and hours brings out the truths.

My son came by one afternoon after school to say hi and laughed his head off at what he perceived as the absurdity of this undertaking, not to mention the bouffant hats. But I know that a seed is planted down deep with my children watching the trials and tribulations of Mary Beth’s Apple pie Company. They get to see that it takes hard work to make something happen, that you keep your word, even and especially, if you desperately want to run for the hills. There are successes and failures, but still you persevere. I am pulling it off and I won’t stop until it’s complete. I hear my kids tell their friends about it and there is a tone of pride in their voice. 

As a parent, showing by example is still one of the best ways to get it ingrained…right? I am accidently/on purpose doing that.

So if you are looking for some yummy single serving mini apple and pumpkin pies for your holiday, give Williams Sonoma a peek.  You bake them yourself and they really are fabulous. And (please) pay special attention to those BEAUTIFUL LEAVES!!!!!!!

Bon Appétit