By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram (6/2/16)
aurie Gray developed her love of baking as a small child; she still owns a Little Chef toy oven she received as a gift when she was about 4 years old.
In fact, the artifact from her childhood sits atop the customer counter at The Pie Bar, which is Gray’s current business venture following a career spent primarily in the worlds of banking and nonprofits. Gray will open The Pie Bar’s new storefront operation on Pine Avenue today, following her work building a customer base for her enterprise by selling her signature Cutie Pie Jars filled with samples of key lime pie and other confections at spots around Long Beach.
“I knew my ultimate goal was to open a pie shop in Long Beach, because that’s where I live,” Gray said during an interview at her downtown bakery.
On Wednesday, city inspectors finished their tasks of making sure The Pie Bar was ready for business. The approval amounted to a greenlight for her to fire up her oven for a marathon baking session to prepare for opening day.
“We will be baking around the clock Thursday and into Friday morning,” Gray said.
Gray, 51, received her Little Chef oven sometime around 1968, when she was growing up in the Seattle area. Gray learned to bake from her mother, Beverley Olson, and Gray still uses her mother’s lemon bar recipe to produce desserts for The Pie Bar.
Although key lime pie has so far proven to be The Pie Bar’s most popular offering, Gray’s menu continues to reflect her northwestern upbringing with the inclusion of marionberry pie. The marionberry is a hybrid variety of blackberries that grows in Oregon.
“That’s my favorite berry to make in a pie,” Gray said. “We make that all the time. They’re shipped in frozen. They’re picked right off the vine and frozen immediately.”
Gray’s menu plans also include chicken pot pies and other savory pastries, along with a variety of dessert flavors that she said would put “the bar” in The Pie Bar, such as chocolate stout, whiskey peach pie shots and tequila-fortified key lime pie.
The Pie Bar is the second time Gray’s aspirations to run a bakery have resulted in her opening a commercial enterprise. She opened Alki Pie Company in 2003 after working in the banking industry, but closed the West Seattle bakery in 2005.
“I was a single mom, and I had kids to support and it was too scary to run a business,” Gray said.
Gray has two children, and the younger of the two has left for Fleming College near Toronto. Gray herself had already made a career switch after concluding her first foray into the baking industry by moving into the nonprofit realm.
She spent time at her most recent 9-to-5 gig organizing charity walks for Lupus Foundation of America, but the lure of starting a business proved too strong to resist.
“When the opportunity came up again, I’m like, ‘I’m going for it.’ ”
MIXING AND BAKING
Gray’s efforts to open The Pie Bar go back to the time when she obtained a cottage food license, the product of a state law that since 2013 allows Californians to sell pastries, jellies, dried pasta and other foods made in their home kitchens. Since early 2015, she has purchased time at Hana Kitchens, a commercial kitchen in Huntington Beach. There, Gray could bake for eight hours at a time.
That was not enough time, however, to produce enough desserts to prevent MADE in Long Beach from selling out of its supply of pie jars just about every day the items were up for sale.
That’s the word from DW Ferrell, the executive director of Localism Inc., the organization that runs MADE in Long Beach, where 120 entrepreneurs have space to sell craft foods or artisanal goods. Ferrell said new applications come in every day.
“The main thing we want to have is, is it a hobby for them or do they want to grow into a serious business?” he said.
Black Ring Coffee’s Trevor Moisen, who co-founded the enterprise with Juliette Simpkins, said MADE in Long Beach has proved to be a valuable source of business contacts as well as a place to find customers.
“It really brought a lot of us together,” Moisen said.
As for Gray, her opening day is set after investing nearly $80,000 to convert a former Quizno’s sandwich shop into a bakery. More than $31,000 of that amount came from a successful Kickstarter campaign. Those donors included Gray’s mother. Those baking lessons from her mother came before the days when two-parent households needed to have both parents working to get by, Gray said, and she wonders if home-style baking may be a vanishing art.
“I feel there’s a generation that doesn’t know real, scratch-baked goods,” she said.
The Pie Bar is scheduled to open at noon today. The address is 450 Pine Ave. in Long Beach.