The Long I Pie Shop is so much more than a mobile bakery. Owner and baker Shauna Lott started it in 2014 with a dream of creating a place to employ at-risk youth. Though the baking and the airstream and the pie has brought her success in business, but the original vision is sharper than ever.
She talked to Eater about her focus for the next year: creating jobs, bringing on employees, and diversifying what she offers. And maybe, if we all get what we want, one day there will be a Long I Pie Shop storefront.
How did you come up with the name Long I Pie Shop? Everyone asks that. People try to guess which is funny. Some people ask if I’m from Long Island or they just pronounce it wrong. What really happened is that I was living in Boulder with some of my friends and we were sitting around drinking wine at dinner. Someone was like, "What about long I. Pie has a long I in it…" And it stuck. I was launching at an event the next weekend so I literally needed a name to put on a business card. Though the branding has changed since then, the name has always been the same.
When is the shop’s actually one-year anniversary? It’s kind of tricky because it was such a rolling start of business. There are a lot of one-year milestones. Even though I went "full-time pie" at the beginning of January 2014, I had launched the business six months before that. Then the mobile piece of the business launched later, last summer.
"Full-time pie" … so what were you doing before this? I worked in human services with youth who were living with HIV and refugee families in Denver. I was there for five years. And that’s actually one of the reasons I started the pie shop. I wanted to employ at-risk youth … I knew that culinary skills are really important for these kids and that I could help them in the kitchen. If you give a kid a chance at employment, that gives them a good reference and a resume. The can get a job somewhere else and maybe that job is at another restaurant. I employed a 21-year-old this summer who had never cut a vegetable in his life. The kitchen skills are vital because you can work in the food industry, but it also gives them social skills. It’s multipurpose: mentoring, life, customer communication skills. We had more conversations about how to talk to your boss appropriately than we did about how to make a pie.
What’s the other reason you started the shop? My grandma passed away a couple years ago. I was super close to her … she passed away in July and over the holidays, I just started baking pie to connect with her again. She always had cookies or pie at her house. She taught me how to make it and I needed to do it to connect with her again. People started telling me I was really good at it and encouraged me to start a business.
So you started making pie and selling it … where does the airstream fit in? Mobile businesses are easier in the beginning than a brick and mortar. The other point of being mobile was being able to go to people rather than them coming to me. We built it very specifically so it looks like your grandmother’s kitchen. You come inside rather than coming up to a window like a typical food truck.
But you’re selling it? A mobile bakery is extremely hard. I bake in the kitchen for hours, then I have to load my car with pie, then I have to hitch up the airstream, drive to an event, unload for an hour, work the event, load everything back up for another hour, then finally go home. As a one-woman business, it’s not feasibly possible to make it lucrative. All my capital is in the airstream. It feels a little bit like I’m losing a child … it was such a labor of love, built with my dad and grandfather.
So does that mean we will find you in a storefront anytime soon? Well, as of right now, you can find my pies at Purple Door Coffee, Huckleberry Roasters, Dorchester Social Eatery, and at other random events throughout the week. We have a fun event at Stem Ciders every 4th Tuesday of the month. I would love to eventually have at least my own kitchen, possibly a place to sell pie. The kitchen is definitely a focus though.
What’s next? I didn’t start this business because I necessarily loved baking or always had a dream of being a baker. I did it because I want to hire youth who need a chance at employment. So I need to grow it to a point where I can do that. I’m trying to get into shelf-stable items that could be sold in stores. I’m also really excited about a cookbook that I’m working on with Annie Herzig, an extremely talented local illustrator—we’re hoping it will be available this summer. There will be 30 recipes in there. Again, I want to hire youth to give them a chance at future employment, so I’m working on a business model that is production-oriented to create more jobs.
What does turning a year old mean to you? I kind of say to myself, "Wow! You survived a year!" I’ve read statistics on businesses and in your first year, some large percentage of businesses fail. And even more every year after that, until you’re five years old. I feel so lucky to have made it—it was a ton of work. But we were voted Top of the Town by 5280 Magazine and I’ve grown a lot as a person and business. Turning one year, I just reflect back on a lot. But I’m a true entrepreneur, always thinking toward the future. I’m so excited about what could happen and how things could grow. I’m learning from my mistakes and tweaking things to put myself on the path I want to go down.
Now for the hard-hitting stuff … which pie is your best-seller? We try to be seasonal, but the salted honey lavender, called the Honey Flower is a bestseller. Everyone likes that one the best and that’s the one that I get comments about.
Which is your personal favorite? For me, probably because of nostalgia, I would have to say Grandma’s Pie. It’s a spiced apple cranberry pie. When I get sad, I’ll sometimes make one. It’s a comfort for me.