Photos by Asia Morris.
15 years ago Long Beach resident Laurie Gray started a pie-making business in Seattle called Alki Pie Company, an ode to Gray’s former home on Alki Beach. She had been working in the banking world for 17 years when she grew weary of “the corporate rat race and making money for somebody else.” Sitting at home one evening watching the Food Network she eyed two women who had started a successful pie purveying endeavor in Georgia, called up a friend with a similar idea, and began what would be her first attempt at making pies for a living.
“The dream was always to have a pie shop on the beach,” said Gray. “But I never made it [to opening a pie shop]. When you have your own business you just don’t know. There’s no guaranteed paycheck. Sometime there’s money coming in, sometimes there’s not.”
And as a single mother with two growing children to support at the time, after two years of running Alki Pie Company out of a commercial kitchen, Gray made the choice to sell the business to her baker, who still runs it today, and start a career in nonprofit management. Now with her son in his early 20s and her daughter off to college, Gray is reveling in the decision she made for Thanksgiving 2014: to take a crack at the dream again, to start a pie company near a different beach this time, in—you guessed it—Long Beach.
Three decades in the corporate world would make anyone hungry for the comforts of pie, but Gray has a natural talent for the homegrown science of pie raising. Since moving to Long Beach five years ago, Gray has found a niche for her sweet craft as The Pie Bar, and it’s no wonder that her best-selling Key Lime, Bourbon Pecan and Kahlua Coffee pies, among many other always-rotating flavors, have left the community craving more.
But Gray won’t take all the credit. She attributes her love for baking, her ability to make The Pie Bar’s dough from scratch, teaching her kids how to bake, and the 14-to-16 hour days she’d spend baking out of her home before The Pie Bar moved operations to a commercial kitchen in Huntington Beach, to her mother.
"I grew up with a mom that stayed at home, so she had time to bake," said Gray. "But, I was a working mom and I didn’t have time to bake and raise kids and have a full-time job. So there’s a whole generation that didn’t get to experience that lovely, from-scratch baking."
A whole generation, it seems, that won’t have to miss out any longer, especially those who reside in and around downtown Long Beach. Since starting The Pie Bar just over a year ago, Gray’s team has gone from baking one day a week to three days, with a current demand that is more than they can produce in the three eight-hour shifts allotted at the Huntington Beach kitchen, through personal deliveries and selling out of several local Long Beach locations. Now thanks to a five-year lease Gray recently signed for 450 Pine Avenue, The Pie Bar will be able to churn out mouth-watering pies all day, every day.
“So the shop really will let us bake 24/7, increase our wholesale, increase our catering (because we do weddings),” said Gray. “And then people can come in for a slice of pie, ice cream, coffee; pick up a whole pie. I can’t wait.”
The new space, which used to be a Quizno’s, is just north of Fourth Street, located right underneath the City Place apartments in downtown. It’s a perfect location for The Pie Bar, first, because Gray already has plans for pie deliveries to City Place residents and second, the brick and mortar will activate a section of Pine Avenue that arguably could use a little life. Having a storefront and a kitchen will also allow Gray to be more creative and host Long Beach’s pie lovers for many a special event.
“I want to do a pie experience where you can come in with a group of friends and I’ll teach you how to make your own dough and we’ll have wine; fun stuff I can do in the shop that I can’t do [out of the commercial kitchen] now,” said Gray.
And while The Pie Bar is certainly a quickly growing endeavor, Gray said she wants to keep things small so she can maintain her connections to the Long Beach small business community. Especially since Gray first gave it a go by holding a Saturday pop-up shop at MADE in Long Beach, while her Cutie Pie Jars are now available at the downtown boutique any day of the week.
“I don’t want to become a big, mass wholesale producer,” she said. “I want to be able to use local ingredients and support local farmers. There’s a company that also sells at MADE [jn Long Beach] called Burnin’ Beak and she makes habanero marmalade. I bought some of that from her and I make a hand pie with a slice of brie and then her habanero marmalade, wrapped up in a butter crust. It’s amazing. If I can find other small local makers and take their product and combine it into my product, I’d like to do that.”
Now the dream is to open The Pie Bar in Long Beach and eventually expand to Seattle, so Gray can flit back and forth between her two favorite places, the two beaches she calls home. The next step in opening her very first brick and mortar is raising $30,000 to outfit her kitchen with the necessary equipment, including a bakery case. Gray is asking the Long Beach community to be a part of The Pie Bar’s first step into storefront life.
“There’s nothing sad about pie,” said Gray. “It’s caring for people and it’s nurturing and it makes people happy, and that makes me happy. Because pie is really one of the simple comforts in life.”
And if you love pie and ice cream, this Saturday The Pie Bar will take over Long Beach Creamery to bring Pie Sundaes to the people. Click here for updates.