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Sometimes Life Gives You Lemons

In 2008, the country headed into a recession.  At that time I was living in Warwick, NY running a successful horse boarding and horseback riding business on our family farm. Horseback riding is a luxury business.  As the economy declined parents stopped children’s horseback riding lessons, horse owners gave up their horses and/or stopped taking lessons.  My personal life was falling apart too.  That same year my husband and I were divorced. I was raising three children and trying to make ends meet.  One day I had the idea of making pies and selling them.  We needed extra money and we needed it quickly.  My first career was in in the pharmaceutical industry where I was a pharmaceutical representative for several years.  I baked my way into the most hard to see physicians.  It was amazing how bringing in a warm homemade pie would open doors.  I knew people liked them, I had won a prize at our town’s Applefest so why not try selling them to our neighbors? Okay, so now what?

I made up fifty fliers.  I offered three kinds of pie.  I went out in the car with my son and we put them in our neighbors mailboxes.  By the time we got home we had a couple of messages on the answering machine and they were orders for pie!  Frantically I scrambled to find a pie boxes and pie tins.  My plan was not terribly well thought out because I wasn’t even sure my idea was a viable one!

I started working as an apprentice for my boyfriend, Tom.  He was a Farrier (trims horses hooves, shapes horseshoes and nails them on).  Tom had been a Farrier for over 20 years and had many high end horse stable accounts.  As the economy dwindled his business dwindled too.  We worked together Monday through Friday shoeing horses throughout northern NJ and worked on developing a small weekend pie business at night.  We incorporated using my maiden name and became Noble Pies. We put out flyers in mailboxes until the post office asked us to stop.  One side of our farm sits on a busy highway and on weekends there was a folding table set up with a few hand painted signs that the kids made.  We started selling lots of pies.  Shockingly people were brave enough to stop at our roadside pie stand.  Those people that were local liked the pie and returned.  We got so busy that we would stay up most of the night on Thursday’s and Friday’s making pies for the weekend.  It was not easy working in our kitchen.  Our house is a very old home built in 1830.  Our farm house kitchen is about 400 sq ft. with very little counter space and one small oven.  Most of our work was done over the kitchen table.  Tom was learning to bake so he was sticking to preparing the fruit for the pies and I made and rolled all of the dough and assembled the pies.  Our house was getting taken over with supplies too.  We couldn’t afford to by assembled boxes.  We had a folding table set up in our foyer where our children would take turns folding an assembling boxes.  We were beginning to believe that maybe our little side business was going to work out.

Things Begin to Change

We were at the point that we needed a commercial kitchen.  A local bagel shop offered to let us use their kitchen.  We bake there two afternoons a week and we could bake many pies at once in the carousel style convection oven which was a joy compared to the eight pies in a conventional oven at home.  Our requirements for flour, sugar, butter, etc were exceeding what we could buy at our local grocery store yet we couldn’t meet the minimum dollar purchase requirements from all of the food distributors.  Luckily for us a local restaurant owner was willing to let us order with his order and we would pick it up at his restaurant.  We started running tiny ads in our local newspapers. We sold our little three inch pies at a local meat shop, a bagel shop and gas station.  We participated in school holiday markets, business openings, fund raisers anywhere we could to get exposure.  We gave away lots of free pies.  I truly believed that if I could just get people to taste our pie that they would be hooked.  That proved to be correct and was and still is our best form of promotion. It not only helped grow our business but it brought us such satisfaction to see a happy face as people ate our pies. 

One of the fundraisers we provided pies to was at a beautiful barn styled shopping center just outside of the village of Warwick.  There was a little shop that had a bakery in it that had gone out of business.  We asked the the woman holding the fundraiser if she had any idea how much rent was.  This was just pure curiosity we had not even thought of actually have a retail location.  It turned out the landlord was her husband!  He contacted us and we met him at the space.  He offered to let us “try out” the space during the upcoming Christmas holiday.  This was so tempting.  Sitting in our driveway under a tent in the winter trying to sell pies to passers by was not pleasant and not very profitable. We were also anxious to get our house back as it was overrun with supplies and boxes.  At Thanksgiving we had many more orders than we ever imagined.  Getting the pies to the customers was challenging.  We either delivered to customer’s homes, they picked up at our home or we met in a central location.  Our daughter and a friend of ours drove all over Warwick that Thanksgiving!  The idea of having all of the pies at a store front was very appealing.  The thought of heat and lights was also motivating.  We decided to try it out.  It was a 1,200 sq ft space with nothing in it.  We set up a folding table and even put our pop up tent in the middle of the store just to fill up the empty space.  We had a banner that said Noble Pies made up to hang in the window.  (insert photo) . At this point in our business we were making just enough extra money to pay our bills but there was no money leftover to invest in our business

How Do We Go From A Retail Space To A Bakery

We had to decide whether we were going to commit to the space or not. The landlord needed to know.  Our pies were popular, we sold many pies at the holidays but could we make a full time commitment.  We decided to go for it.  It took a few months to become a licensed bakery.

We had a space in a beautiful shopping center in the beautiful town of Warwick, NY but we didn’t have any equipment to put in it except for a 30 year old oven and an even older 30 quart mixer.  These two pieces of equipment we found on Craigslist.  A woman now living up in Accord, NY had the oven for sale for a very reasonable price. She told us she had closed her successful bakery in lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attack as the area was pretty much closed down.  She offered us the 30 Quart mixer for such a cheap price we felt we had to take it.  It sat in our foyer for a longtime because we had no idea that we would ever need it!  We loved hearing the stories of her business and who she sold cakes to.  We felt honored to be buying her equipment. Over the next few months we scoured Craigslist looking for bakery equipment.  At this time many bakeries and restaurants were going out of business because the economy had not rebounded.  There was a lot for sale but we needed equipment that was at a really cheap price.  We travelled to throughout the tri-state area and eventually found everything we needed.  My mom helped us buy a one year old oven that was hardly ever used that was out of our budget but too hard to pass up. We now had used stainless steel tables, sinks, ovens, a mixer, a counter, and a cash register.   We were getting closer to opening up a bakery.  Now we had to figure out what a pie shop is supposed to look like.  Since we didn’t know of any we decided it could look like anything we want!  It was important to us not to have a wall between us and the customers.  We thrived on the customer interaction and we needed the input from them as we developed our pies and our full menu. So with some imagination, gathering some decorative pieces from friends and family and getting approval from the health department we were finally able to open our pie bakery!  We didn’t open full time.  We still had our full time Monday through Friday jobs of shoeing horses and running our horse boarding and lesson business.  Initially, we would bake Thursday and Friday nights so we would have pies to sell on the weekends.  We were exhausted working 7 days a week.  Slowly I started going into to bake on Thursdays and Fridays during the day and getting pies made. Sundays I would give horseback riding lessons.  As we could afford to we started having the bakery open Wednesday through Sunday.  Over the course of one year we gave up the horse shoeing part of our business and  Noble Pies became a full time business for us both. 

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