The Road to QVC Part 2
After my appearance on QVC things got interesting at Noble Pies in ways we couldn’t imagine. Let me take you back to 2020.
In early Spring of 2020, our son Zachary joined Noble Pies. He had been working in Brooklyn for the past 4 years and had gained a wealth of experience in marketing, interior design, and finance. These skills proved to be very valuable to Noble Pies growth. Zachary’s timing to join us couldn’t have worked out better.
January and February are the slowest months of the year.
Business typically starts to build back up again in March depending on the weather. Things were going pretty much status quo and then Covid hit. As with every business it was a jolting stark realization that everything had to change and fast. QVC went on a permanent hold due to COVID restrictions.
The first changes to our business were sudden. We had to make the decision that we could not let customers come into the store for health safety reasons, so we quickly went to curbside pick-up only. We had to lock our front door to keep customers from coming in, there was nothing pleasant about it. There were lots of new procedures for everyone to get used to. The phone was ringing off the hook because customers were standing outside giving us their orders or if someone placed an order they had to call once they were in the parking lot so they could pick it
up. We were taking credit card payments over the phone too and that slowed everything down as we had to manually process the transactions. The phone was practically a full-time job. Our son, Zachary had joined us in mid-March and literally got thrown into the insane crush of business changes. Thank goodness we had him to manage the front of the shop. We also recruited our other son, Sam to help manage all of the pie orders. Tom and I were frantically baking as fast as we could.
By May the madness continued, plus we were gearing up for the start of farmers’
markets. Zachary set up a table just outside our front door that was very welcoming even though no one could come in, and we had to maintain social distancing. A sign board was set up with our menu. At Zachary’s suggestion we limited our offerings of sweet and savory pies to keep up. Fortunately, the format of using weekly menus and weekly specials became popular and we still maintain that today.
We were beginning to realize that we were having limitations on production. There was no way we would be able to keep up due to lack of space to work in and refrigeration and freezer needs. We cut back on the days that we were open, so we went from 7 days to 5 days. Our bodies were
feeling the impact, something had to change.
In June we realized that we could not continue to go on like this and run a successful business. Additional space became available in our shopping center as several businesses closed due to the pandemic. It was very disturbing to watch the effects of Covid on businesses. It was sad to watch some businesses not be able to survive. Not a day has gone by that we do not think about how fortunate that we have been.
Right about now you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with QVC. It had everything to do with us being able to take it on and produce the volume of pies needed. I will tell you about the infrastructure that we began to put into place.
We decided to take a huge step and lease additional space. It was not ideal because it was not adjacent to our current shop, but it would help us meet the growing demands of our operation. (Plus, the new bakery space faces west and is loaded with windows. The evening sunsets are a joy plus there is nothing I like more than baking in the afternoon sun!) We planned for this space to hold a 8'X8’ refrigerator and a same-sized freezer, and still have space to expand with more equipment.
Right after the 4th of July we took a week off to recuperate, work on the farm and start our expansion. We had figured out what equipment we were going to need and had to start shopping for it. Used, of course. Bakery design had to be done and approval from the health department
had to be finalized. Electric and plumbing planning needed to be done. Not only did we have to submit complete plans with drawings to the health department for the bakery we had to do the same thing for the café downstairs. Fortunately for me that was Tom’s department!
July 5th we completely shut down. One week later we started moving everything out of the bakery. Before we moved up Zachary and his girlfriend, Anjie painted and wallpapered for us. One of the biggest projects was getting the walk-in freezer and
walk-in cooler installed and set up. We had been fortunate enough to have been given a huge
12X12 walk-in freezer from one of our longtime pie customers who had the foresight to believe that one day we would grow big enough to need it. The walls had been stored in our barn for about 5 years. We could not have been more thankful for all of it! We needed a walk-in freezer and a walk-in cooler. We contacted the manufacturer to adapt what we had. We ended up with 2 (8’X8”) units. We had family and friends helping us push, carry, and pull everything from the store up the hill and around back to their new home. Moving the ovens was a major job, especially getting them through the doorways!
It was August, it was hot, we needed more space, and we needed more help. While we were setting up the bakery Zachary and Anjie were remodeling the entire cafe. It needed new flooring, ceiling tiles, lights, reach-in coolers, coffee maker, espresso machine, etc. Simultaneously,
Zachary was working on our rebranding, from our logo to our website to our advertising. We were also hiring more employees for the café and the bakery. We were lucky to convince our youngest son’s girlfriend Liv to come work in the bakery,
She learned very quickly and over time became our bakery manager. It was a lot on our plate. Somedays I really wondered how we would get it to all fall into place. Through a lot of hard work, late nights, and perseverance we finally opened the bakery in mid-August to try it all out, and we made pies for our weekend farmers’ markets. On August 22 we reopened of the café.
The amount of work that went into the complete makeover of our Flagship store was daunting. Zachary and Anjie worked crazy hours day and night to get it done. The transformation was astounding. It is the signature look for our other locations. In addition to the café work they managed to paint and wallpaper in the new bakery. It made it bright, beautiful, and welcoming for us. We couldn’t believe that we now had 1,100 sq ft of space dedicated just for baking!
While all of this was happening, Tom was starting to have more and more difficulty breathing. After a doctor visit, he was told to go home “now”, get his personal items together and go straight to the emergency room. We were in a panic and could not imagine what would
happen. The short version is that where one of the rib breaks occurred (back in February when Tom slipped on soap in the shower) a very tiny puncture into his lower pleural cavity was allowing fluid to seep in very slowly. A protective layer formed on the inside of his lung to save the remaining airspace. All of that had to be scraped out. Tom was in the hospital for 10 long days. He was busy working from his computer doing payroll, ordering, inventory, and equipment research. It was a huge help plus it kept him busy while he was stationary. Tom doesn’t do stationary well! It was a high-risk surgery plus it was during Covid, so the stress was high for all of us. Our kids and staff did a phenomenal job of helping keep the business going and me going during this time. Our customers were wonderful and supportive, and it really helped our morale. Thankfully Tom had an excellent Pulmonologist who saved his life.
September had arrived too quickly. Just about as soon as we settled into the new bakery space, we had a mind-boggling revelation, we still did not have enough space. The new refrigeration had taken up more space than planned, and we still did not have the new equipment in place.
Without much hesitation we all mutually agreed the new 1,100 sq ft just was not going to cut it. We were making more pies, but we did not have a place to put them into the boxes! Luckily, the space next to us was available and we took it. We had a doorway put in and now we had an area for, packaging, supply storage, an office of sorts, and farmers’ market equipment.
In October we wondered if we made the right decisions. The fall is always our busiest time of year, and we were doing more farmers’ markets and the new bakery was running well. Yet we realized we needed a couple of additional pieces of equipment. We were wearing out our staff on Fridays as we had more and more pies we had to get ready for farmers markets. We did not really know what exactly we needed but we knew that there must be machinery to help. Our research began and we first purchased a Steam Kettle. What a game changer! We could now make 40 qt batches of savory pie fillings, cream pie fillings and soups! Our next purchase was an 80 qt mixer. It was so intimidating at
first but now I cannot imagine how we survived without it. Tom and I have always hunted for used equipment on Craigslist. Now Facebook Market Place was a great place to shop. We found our bakery dishwasher, ice machine, ice cream cooler, extra baking racks, oven, mixers, storage racks, and one of my favorite finds was a Robot Coupe (a powerful commercial grade food processor) for $80! We always enjoy meeting the people selling the item and the fun of the journey to the seller and the back story behind the item that we are purchasing.
Oh, dear it was already November and I am worried if Tom will be okay. I am also wondering how many pies we can make for Thanksgiving. Tom was back and
making a miraculous recovery. On October 31st Tom and I even made a guest appearance at the Hastings Farmers’ Market. It was a new market for us, so we were anxious to meet all our new customers. Back at the bakery we got the electricity run for the new machinery and got the mixer and steam kettle working. We added one more convection oven and we were ready for Thanksgiving. It is a good thing we were ready because we sold more pies than we ever have. Do you want to know the craziest part? The craziest part was that we finished every night by 7:30! Not one all-nighter! It was smoother and less stressful than ever. I attribute it to a great staff, good planning, and equipment to support our volume of business.
December was here and we were making more pies but making them smarter. December was busy all month. We had a huge wholesale order for over 500 pies to top it all off. We even had to rent a truck to get them there. Again, our wonderful staff pulled us through.
After Tom recovered, we began to make plans to go on QVC in the Spring of 2021. We knew we did not want to work with a copacker again. We preferred to be managing the entire process ourselves. The big question was how do we do that without being in a big manufacturing facility? We began to work with a Bakery Consultant and a Regulatory Consultant. They were certain that we could get our GMP and USDA certifications in our existing facility without much difficulty, just a lot of hard work and training. We began our training in February. We had in house training from our Regulatory consultant and some of our managers attended off site HACCP Training (food safety). By the Spring of 2022 we were ready to make savory pies and fruit pies for QVC in our own facility. It was scary and exciting. We were all stepping out of our comfort zone and into new territory.
Zachary wanted to represent us on QVC. He went through the QVC training program and received his certification. His appearances were virtual from my mom’s kitchen until his last airing in December which was live in the QVC studio. In 2022 Zachary appeared numerous times on QVC with different hosts including Alberti Popaj, Rachel Boesing, David Venable, and Sandra Bennett. When Zachary went on for Christmas in July, we thought maybe he would sell around 5,000 pies but he ended up selling over 14,000 pies! We were beside ourselves with excitement. It was so beyond anything we imagined. Once we came down off our cloud the reality hit us. How were we going to make all these pies?!!!! I will tell you all about it in Part 3.
Lyn Noble ("Momo") and Zachary 2022