Friday, October 15, 2010

WHO-TV Shoot Results in Early Pie Sales to Ladies in Red Hats

Mike Borland and his camera, American Gothic-style
Today photojournalist/reporter Mike Boland from WHO-TV (NBC, Channel 13) in Des Moines came to the American Gothic House to do a story. He had seen Kyle Munson's front page story on me in the Des Moines Register on Monday and  essentially wanted to do a televised version of the piece. The thing is, Mike arrived when I was in the middle of making 10 apple pies for my inaugural pie sales for my brand new Pitchfork Pie Stand. While I was very flattered he wanted to shoot me making pie, let alone do a story in the first place, it is very difficult to answer questions like "How did you come to live in the American Gothic House?" and "How do you like living in the American Gothic House?" when you are trying to concentrate on adding key ingredients. "I had been visiting my childhood home in Ottumwa and saw the sign for the house...."  Darnit! Did I already add salt to those last two pies?

I am still a little insecure about my baking after forgetting the sugar and cinnamon in that pie I was making for The Neighbor. Kind of like when you get in a car accident and you don't trust yourself driving for a long time afterward. "Do you think we can talk after I get these pies in the oven?" I pleaded. He said yes. We went outside and sat on a park bench in front of my famous house and I told him -- told his camera -- the rest of my story. I told him about my husband Marcus dying, about needing to get out of Portland, about being a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair, about finding the house where I now live...and then it was time to take the pies out of the oven.
My first customer!
The pies turned out beautifully, complete with little pitchfork vent-patterns on the top crust. No sooner did I set them on the dining room table to cool a group of six ladies barged in my front door. No knock. Just came in like family. But how could I refuse? They were all wearing red hats and purple jackets! The Red Hat Society. In fairness to them, I had chatted with them earlier on the front lawn and suggested they might enjoy a slice of warm apple pie. "No," they said. "We just ate lunch. Too bad we didn't know beforehand." Well, even I didn't know beforehand as I wasn't going to start selling pie until TOMORROW. But now these charming, perky, smiling, well-dressed women marched right through the living room and into my office and went straight my table full of pies. The apple scent was so powerful I'm sure they were just following their noses. And they wanted to buy pie.

Mike started rolling tape and documented the occasion. I sold three pies on the spot! Given that I had been up since 6AM baking and my hands were tired from peeling apples I had no problem accepting payment for the, sorry for the pun, "fruits" of my labor.

The Red Hat Society ladies left. Mike and his camera left. And then, after all that, I left. I had to drive to Ottumwa to buy more apples to make more pies.

And so begins the grind of a pie businessperson. It's much easier to write about pie than to make it for the masses! Not to get ahead of myself -- I've only sold 3 pies -- but I already think I'm going to have to hire some of Eldon's local pie bakers to help. Because the world really does need more pie.

Mike Borland's segment about the American Gothic House, pie and me airs Monday, October 18 during the 5:00 news. Also check the WHO-TV website for an additional online-only segment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

American Gothic Pie Stand Opens Saturday!

Pie patrons can enjoy their pie & coffee at picnic tables
I'm committed now. All it took was a front page article in Iowa's biggest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, to seal the deal. On Monday, October 11, the reporter, Kyle Munson, declared to the world that I would be selling pie at my new home, the American Gothic House. Uh, yeah, okay. Guess I better get busy.

So yesterday I took the big journey to Des Moines, where I went on a shopping spree -- in this order -- to Office Max (for signage), Bed Bath & Beyond (for a coffee pot and thermoses), Costco (for plates, napkins, forks, coffee cups and a folding table upon which to set everything), and Wal-Mart (for disposable pie tins, a covered cake/pie plate, and a cast-iron skillet which was not for pie but I needed one and it was $7 cheaper at Wal-Mart than for the Emeril brand one at Bed, Bath & Beyond.)

After dropping $300 on supplies I loaded up my covered wagon, I mean my MINI Cooper, and made the two-hour trek back to Eldon wondering a) how many apple pies I should make, b) how much I should charge for pie slices, whole pies and Starbucks French Roast (there will be no weak diner coffee served with my pie!), and c) if I'm crazy for moving to rural Iowa and thinking I can start a pie business. For one thing, many people in this town of 998 already make damn good pie. And several residents (ahem, Arlene Kildow and Janice Chickering) are legendary, blue ribbon-winning pie bakers. They certainly don't need me, some highfalutin West Coast pie baker-to-the-stars, to get quality pie. And two, how many pieces of pie will I have to sell to recoup my $300 investment? Considering we're heading into winter soon, that could take until next summer.

What Kyle Munson didn't write about in his article was my business plan. Kyle asked me how much a slice of pie was going to cost. I squirmed, shrugged my shoulders, looked down at my feet, I did everything but answer his question. Then pointing up at the kitchen wall I answered, "My problem is this." He looked up at my huge foam board sign, decorated with a red and white checkered tablecloth border, emblazoned with huge letters that read: FREE PIE. "I don't think I'll ever make a good businessperson because I like giving pie away. If you would come into my shop feeling down I would say, 'Oh, it looks like you could use a piece of pie to cheer you up. Here you go. No charge.' Um, not a great business strategy."

I read a book once by a guy who calls himself the "Pitbull of Personal Development." It's called "Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life" by Larry Winget.  My retention is terrible when it comes to books and film, but more than a year later one sentence still stands out. Winget writes, "Saying things like, 'I have never been able to do that well' will only perpetuate the fact you will not ever be able to do it well. Saying 'I'm not good at math' does not make you better at math."

I am not good at math. I am not good at business. But I am going to change what Winget calls "limited thinking." I am good at math -- and I'll be even better at it now that I bought that calculator at Wal-Mart yesterday. I am good at business -- and I am going to honor the fact that I, like most people, need to earn a living. Not to mention, pie ingredients are not cheap. Therefore, the next thing on my To Do List today -- right after paying my overdue cell phone bill -- is make a price list to display on my folding table. It will be a small, almost apologetic price list, but it will have numbers on it. And, like a good businessperson, I will bravely, boldly ask people to part with their cash in exchange for a slice of my homemade-with-high-quality ingredients pie. It will be painful at first. But I will get used to it.

I may be a Big Picture person when it comes to pie, but with my retail efforts I'm going to start small. For now, my pie shop is a six-foot-long table -- a pie stand, if you will. Think neighborhood bake sale. If things go well -- IF YOU BAKE IT THEY WILL COME -- I may graduate to a pie cart. Shirley, the mayor of Eldon, said there's one, a converted camper with a mini-kitchen, available at the Wapello County Fairgrounds. And then, someday, when I prove to myself that I am capable of commitment (gulp!) and that I can run a business without giving away my products for free, you just might find me hanging a shingle on a real storefront.

All this to say, the Pitchfork Pie Stand (at least that's the current name) is officially open for business. "Doors" open at one p.m. on Saturday, October 16. I might even serve Champagne to my first customers to celebrate. At no charge.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kyle Munson's Article: American Gothic Meets American Pie

Des Moines Register photo by John Gaps III

On Thursday, Des Moines Register reporter Kyle Munson came down to Eldon and spent the day with me, the mayor Shirley Stacey, the American Gothic House Center administrator Molly Moser, and met other members of the community. Read his blog and see more pics HERE.  And be sure to read the full article tomorrow in the Des Moines Register -- on the front page of the paper!

I also gave Kyle a tour of the inside of my house. You can see it here on YouTube. Come on in!