These days you'll find Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie inside an industrial kitchen in Hannan House on Woodward Avenue in Midtown; that's where we meet her for our interview on her up-and-coming company. She's smocked in an oversized white cook's shirt and apron. Her hair's in a bun, covered with a hairnet, and she's sporting giant, gray oven mitts that extend past her elbows. She's in the middle of juggling three trays of pies that come in and out of the oven while we chat, each one looking more delicious than the last.
Ludwinski smiles infectiously throughout our interview. Though she says she works seven days a week, she doesn't seem tired or in need of a break. Throughout our talk, she stops to share some recipe secrets, a few tricks of the trade, and boast about working with locally procured ingredients and unusual flours. It's clear that pie is this woman's passion.
With a production that includes selling pies at Parker Street Market, Germack, and Eastern Market, along with taking orders and making deliveries herself, Ludwinski says business is taking off. July was the best month yet for Sister Pie. And with a bakery location in the works, it seems like this company is going nowhere but up.
Metro Times: So, tell us about this space in Hannan House.
Lisa Ludwinski: This has kind of been our middle step. We started off in a home kitchen, and in November of 2013 we moved into this kitchen for Thanksgiving. We just put down money on a space in the West Village, so we're starting to build out a bakery. I'm really excited about it. This is a big kitchen, but we share it with other people, so the storage space is limited. It's been really great as a middle step, but I'm ready to have my own thing.
MT: In a nutshell, what is Sister Pie?
Ludwinski: Sister Pie is pies and cookies. The menu changes monthly based on what's available; usually we do three sweet and one savory pie. Our buckwheat chocolate-chip cookies are super popular. We use all buckwheat flour, gluten-free oat bran, and unsweetened shredded coconut, so it's kind of a more wholesome version of the traditional chocolate-chip cookie, and it happens to be naturally gluten-free, so everybody wins!
MT: How's business?
Ludwinski: July has been a great month, especially because of Fourth of July, and we started selling at Eastern Market Tuesdays, and that's been a big success and a great opportunity for people to come on a regular basis and find our pies. We also sell at Parker Street Market in the West Village, which is actually directly across the street from where we'll be opening our location, and that was a major reason we decided to move there because we loved that idea of creating this little neighborhood block. Hoping to get more people to come to that particular part of Detroit was really a big part of the decision for me.
MT: How's it been working with Parker Street Market?
Ludwinski: It was kind of the perfect test to sell our stuff at Parker Street Market to see if we'd be able to expand to something larger, and then the demand increased steadily and we kept selling out of everything, so we thought, 'Alright, it's time to start to take the next step.' Which is obviously the biggest and scariest step of all because it requires a lot of money, but you know, I've always been in it for the long haul.
MT: So tell us about the bakery.
Ludwinski: Basically, it's going to be a fully functioning retail bakery. We'll bake everything there — pies, cookies, breakfast pastries, pretty much the general pastry offerings. And then we'll do a light breakfast and lunch. Just imagine, like, a big counter with tons of pastries and pies, and then there's big bowls of vegetable grain salads and prepared sandwiches and other things that are also reflective of the seasons and kind of have a healthier spin to them because it's basically about using whole foods and interesting flavor combinations and trying to keep it as simple as possible and highlight the ingredients that we're using. There's not a ton of places in the West Village right now, or just on the east side in general, that have that type of breakfast and lunch. Plus, it's about being able to walk into a bakery and pick up a pie that's of the quality that we're offering. There will be a little bit of seating in the front, and then it will also just be a place where people can come in and pick up pies that they've ordered or just take a pie to dinner.
MT: So do you have an opening date yet?
Ludwinski: Right now, I have honestly no idea when we'll open. I'm hoping within the year.
MT: As of now, without having the bakery, how often does the Sister Pie menu change?
Ludwinski: The menu changes monthly right now. The way I started it back almost two years ago ... I just sent out a menu for Thanksgiving of 2012, and that just kind of stuck. Every month I write a newsletter that gives all of the updates of Sister Pie. It started out as, 'This is a journey that Lisa's embarking on.'
MT: And what about the newsletter?
Ludwinski: I was living in Brooklyn for six years, and I moved back to Michigan specifically to start a business. So I thought I wanted to tell my family and friends what I was up to and let them know I was trying this out, and then it became a way to share with our growing customer base, so the process of opening this particular business — because we started in such a small way, using my parents' oven, and doing everything myself — it then has slowly grown. The newsletter is a great way to share with my customers, which gets them more excited about what we're doing and makes them want to eat more pie!
MT: How many pies do you make a week?
Ludwinski: It totally changes; we're not just pies, so it's like we're a pie production facility, and we have a couple wholesale accounts, so those wholesale accounts get pies, cookies, breakfast items. I guess with Eastern Market it's probably around 25 and 50 small and large pies a week.
MT: That seems like a good number. Is that something you're conscious of?
Ludwinski: I've consciously tried to grow the business slowly because I want to be mindful of the product. I don't want the pies to get worse as we get bigger.
MT: Where does the name Sister Pie come from?
Ludwinski: I have a younger sister, and we call each other sister pie. Like, 'What's up, sister pie' or 'I love you, sister pie.' We have a lot of other nicknames for each other, but that's the highest term of endearment for us. So when I decided I was going to open a pie shop, I knew I had to name it Sister Pie.