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Franchising pies without losing the secret ingredient

Kai Ryssdal and Bridget Bodnar Mar 30, 2015
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Kai Ryssdal stands at the counter of The Pie Hole in downtown Los Angeles.
Daisy Palacios/Marketplace

The economy was in iffy shape at best four years ago, and that might not seem like a great time to open a pie shop. But Lindsay Heffner, her husband Matt, and their friend Sean Brennan did it despite the recession.

“We really thought the perfect anecdote was comfort food.” Brennan says.

The idea for The Pie Hole was a long time in the making. It traces back to Lindsay Heffner’s mother-in-law, Becky, who had always dreamed of opening a pie shop. The idea got legs one Thanksgiving.

“I said, with a mouth full of her lemon meringue, we should open a — expletive — pie shop. She doesn’t love the way I said it, but she does love that I said it” says Heffner.

Four years later, The Pie Hole is doing well. The pies they serve are sometimes familiar, like the Apple Crumble or the Steak & Ale. Others are more unique, like an Earl Grey pie, the Mexican Hot Chocolate and the Maple Custard.

They’ve grown from the original downtown LA location to a spot in Pasadena, and another at the Los Angeles International Airport. The next expansion could be much bigger. Heffner and Brennan are thinking franchises.

“Franchising has such a bad connotation to it” Lindsay Heffner says. “People hear that and they think everything is going to go away, all of the mom-and-pop touch is going to go away and we have been tirelessly trying to assure them that that is not our intention.”

They’ve been exploring different models for spreading Pie Holes around the world in a way that still feels authentic to the original shop.

“We would not feel the same way if all of a sudden we’re dealing with a monolith of pie,” Brennan says.

“You have to take that opportunity if it comes to you,” Lindsay Heffner says. “You’re crazy not to.”

But at the same time, the Pie Hole still has to answer to mom.

“This is my mother-in-law, Becky, this is her dream.” Lindsay Heffner says. “And we have to answer to her because we have somebody’s dreams in our hands.”


Pie-making tips from the Pie Hole’s executive chef, Jeffrey Froehlich:

  1. Water, fat (i.e. butter or shortening) and flour should be mixed in ice cold.
  2. Don’t over-mix your dough!
  3. Par bake your pie shell to avoid a soggy bottom.
  4. Bake seasonally; never use frozen fruit
  5. Mom always said pie is messy, and that’s OK! Don’t expect it to plate perfectly. It’s really the taste that counts, right?

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