REAL Home Bakery Heroes: The Inspirational Story of Pie, Pie My Darling
The first time I encountered the wonders of Pie, Pie My Darling on Instagram I was MESMERIZED…
Firstly because ALL Heather’s cakes on her feed were just BEGGING me to eat them!! In a world of “pretty cakes” (brimming with overly sweet, flavourless, plastic, “edible” crap), it makes the kid in me instinctive leap for joy when I find baking that’s sole purpose is to BE and LOOK completely and utterly DELICIOUS.
Secondly, because it was so rare to find a home baker with an engaged following of over 50 000 people on their Instagram Account! People literally queue in lines up to 100 people, waiting to get their hands on her magical bakes. She ALWAYS sells out – even up to 2000 treats – at her pop up stores.
For a couple of weeks I kept going to back to Pie, Pie My Darling’s Instagram account… Endlessly scrolling and gawking at all Heather’s bakes…
There was a coherent effervescence of nostalgia…
A clear insight and conviction of the ROLE that baked goods fulfill in people’s lives…
A mutual belonging, devotion, care, loyalty and love between Heather and her clients… Her fans… Her people.
And that’s why I’m so honoured and excited to share this interview with you today!
Pie, Pie My Darling embodies the message of AUTHENTIC Home Baking to me. She’s a REAL Home Bakery Hero!
I’m confident that her story will comfort you, excite you and above all – inspire you.
Here we go!
For those who don’t know you; who are you, where do you live and what do you do?
My name is Heather and I’m the owner of an all vegan bakery in Chicago called Pie, Pie My Darling!
Where did you grow up and what were your childhood experiences of cakes, desserts and baking?
I grew up in a little town about an hour west of Chicago called Oswego.
My mom was a health food hippie so everything in the house was all natural, refined sugar free, etc. I have memories of making carob brownies and sugar free apple crisp with her… but for the holidays sometimes we would get store-bought cookie dough or brownie mix.
I remember the one day I looked forward to all year was my birthday, because I got to have a super rich and super unhealthy chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. Best day ever.
Who first exposed you to baking?
I would say probably my mom, though again, we didn’t do much of it and it was suuuuuper minimalistic. As a teen/young adult I didn’t bake or go anywhere near my kitchen at all, so even though I’ve now been baking for several years, it’s still a fairly new thing in my life!
What were your school years like; how did you feel about yourself, about life and about other kids?
I hated school; hated every minute of it. I was bullied pretty bad by both the teachers and other students and would often fake sick so I didn’t have to go. I ended up graduating early and finishing my last semester from home because I just didn’t want to be around people anymore.
It was a really dark time for me and I’m just so glad to be past it and in a place in my life where I finally feel safe and accepted.
Did you always plan to be a baker or did you have other career plans at first?
Totally wasn’t in my plans at all! I always wanted to be a therapist, or a writer. Went to school for both and ended up dropping out because I just couldn’t focus. I was dealing with a lot of social anxiety that kind of spilled over from middle school.
I think in a way baking became an escape for me because I can do it alone and just kind of get lost in my thoughts and forget about all of the things that make me distressed or anxious.
Do you have any baking or business qualifications from a college or university?
Nope, totally self-taught and totally winging it! I considered going to pastry school at one point but never followed through with it. Everything I know was learned via trial and error & reading tons and tons of baking books.
What happened that made you consider to bake for a living? What was that “oh wow! I could DO this!” moment for you?
I think the moment was at my first market when I baked a bunch of pies and they sold out within the first hour! I was just amazed and truly hadn’t expected that kind of a demand.
The next week my inbox was flooding with orders and people reached out with positive feedback and it just really made me feel like for once I had something to be proud of, something worth exploring.
How did Pie, Pie My Darling Start?
When I was 20 I worked at Whole Foods, had just dropped out of college, and felt really aimless and uninspired.
I started baking from home whenever I had a chance and bringing treats in to work for my co-workers to try, not really thinking much of it. It got to a point where I was baking so much and so often that my house was literally bursting with more treats than I could eat myself or share with friends/co-workers, so I decided to try selling them.
I went online and found a local market, picked a name for my business based on one of my favourite Misfits songs, and the rest is history!
Were you scared to start your baking business and how did you deal with that?
Totally. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t know what to expect.
I had major anxiety before my first popup. In my head it was like what if I make all these pies and literally no one buys them or cares? What am I even doing? There was so much doubt but I didn’t really have anything to lose by just trying it out once, so I went for it.
How did your family and friends respond to your desire to bake for a living? And how did you deal with that?
I think at first they were definitely a little skeptical, especially since I hadn’t ever really shown an interest in baking previously. But at the time I had been in a psychological rut for years so I think they were just happy to see me doing something positive with my time instead of being self-destructive.
More recently my dad grabbed lunch with me and told me how proud he was to see me owning my own business and calling the shots and just being creative and happy, and it really meant the world to me.
What were the first bakes you ever sold? To whom did you sell them?
The first popup I ever sold treats at was this little market called Vegan Vortex in Chicago. It was super small and super affordable—just pay $40 for a table and you’re in.
I remember it was a Halloween market and I made 5 different flavours of mini pies in 6” and teeny little bite sized 3” tarts too. I think the flavours were pumpkin, apple, lemon cream, sweet potato, & chocolate cream.
How did you feel once you made your first sale? And how did it influence your life & plans?
Selling pies at that first little market was honestly life-changing for me.
I was so anxious and made all these little mini pies and didn’t know anyone there and was SO shy, but to my surprise I ended up selling out in the first hour!
People were asking me for my info so they could place orders and making posts about my stuff… it was crazy. I had just made my Instagram page a couple days before and had less than 10 Instagram followers. It was incredibly validating and made me think like wow…I could really make this a thing.
You have such a unique, stunning style. How did you find your baking style & voice?
Aww, thank you! I think in a lot of ways my baking style is influenced by the sheer fact that I’m not a professional, I’m a home baker at heart, and that reflects in my decoration choices.
I never learned how to make fondant or scrape a cake till it’s 100% smooth and perfect and pristine (and honestly never wanted to), so instead I chose to cover my cakes in colorful sprinkles or cookie crumbs or ganache drip.
Childhood nostalgia is the main inspiration for my baking—I’m not looking to impress necessarily—I want to make something that makes the kid in you squeal with joy. I want to make the treats my mom forbade me to eat when I was little 😂
How did you grow your baking skills to this level?
Lots and lots of practice, failure, and trial & error!
It’s interesting to look back at my photos from years ago and see how the growth was pretty organic. Like when I first started my ganache drip was a bit messy and frosting was more sloppy, and over time after doing hundreds and hundreds of cakes things just kind of naturally progressed.
How long did it take before you could bake full-time?
I think it took about two years! For the first year I had a full time job and baked on the side, and then towards the second year I went down to just three days a week, then two, then just one until things got so busy with PPMD that I just knew it was time to take the plunge into doing it full time.
Which books, podcasts, blog posts, videos or online courses helped most to grow you as a business woman?
To be honest, I haven’t read up much on how to run a business and even still to this day feel like I’m winging it and have a lot to learn!
For my baking influence, though, I give so much credit to Isa Chandra and all of her cookbooks + her website post punk kitchen. Her books not only made me feel like I could be vegan and still bake amazing treats, but they also made me feel like I can be myself and not some perfect cookie cutter cookbook model and still make it in the industry.
You have such a loyal group of utterly devoted fans. Why do you think people resonate so much with you and your brand?
I think some people may resonate with me and my story because I’m just an ordinary girl, you know?
I didn’t have any fancy training or schooling and I’m not above others in any way. I’m just a home baker who stumbled upon a passion and was lucky enough to make that passion into a career.
I’ve also been told by many customers/followers that my choice to share a lot about myself and my issues with mental illness, addiction/recovery/etc. brings me closer to them because they’re seeing the real me and lots of them can relate.
My customers are like friends to me, and actually many of them have become friends in real life! I feel incredibly lucky to have so much support and to feel like I finally found my people.
What are the 2 best decisions you’ve made in your Baking Business?
- Breaking ties with other business owners who were toxic and
- always staying true to myself and my passion/morals/aesthetic/worldview no matter what.
What are the 2 worst mistakes you’ve made in your Baking Business?
- Mistaking business relationships for friendships i.e.: expecting the other businesses you work closely with to care as much about your business as you do and have your best interest in mind.
- Overworking myself to the point of burnout.
What are the 2 most valuable lessons you’ve learned about running a baking business?
- Quality over quantity—you will never be able to please everyone, and there will always be people who want more from you than you are able to give.
- It’s OK to say no. The people who actually respect you and your work will always understand.
What are the 2 most valuable lessons you’ve learned about yourself in this process?
- I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever would have imagined, and that I’m not worthless, and do have value.
- I’ve also learned the importance of taking breaks and just stopping every now and then for self-care instead of constantly working myself into the ground. There is a lot of pressure to constantly be creating and I’ve learned that my mental health and sanity is worth more than that.
What are the 2 most valuable lessons you’ve learned about people/clients in this process?
- You can’t please everyone and for every person who will scold you for not being perfect/not giving them whatever they want when they want, there are 10 more people standing by supporting you, loving you, and caring for you.
- I love my customers so much and consider many of them to be my friends. I think as business owner you have the ability to teach people how to treat you, and if you let people step all over you there will always be a constant imbalance. The whole process is so much healthier when there is mutual respect on both ends.
What are your plans & dreams for Pie, Pie My Darling going forward?
I would really love to make a storefront happen this year 🖤 It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and though there have been many, many roadblocks over the years, I’m never giving up on it. I would also like to let go of control a little and hire some full time bakers so I can grow and keep up with the demand.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a Home Bakery, but feels they aren’t “good enough”?
YOU ARE SO GOOD ENOUGH!!
I know this sounds corny but seriously, if I can do it, you can do it.
I literally started from nothing with no business or baking experience, no following, and a tiny little gas oven in my home kitchen and now it’s my full time job. All you need is the passion and drive and you can totally do it.
Remember to be yourself and make an effort to create things that are your own instead of trying to be like other bakers. What you’re looking for is inside you.
If you are lucky enough to live in Chicago, you can check out Pie, Pie My Darling’s website to order.
The rest of us will have to stick to licking our screens on Pie, Pie My Darling’s Instagram Account!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Heather! I’m sure your story will bless all the other Home Bakers just as much as it has blessed me.
Do you have any Home Bakery Heroes you would like me to interview?
Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try my best to make it happen!