Who says a pie has to be large? Why can't a pie be handheld or even bite-size? Mother and daughter duo Kit Seay and Amanda Bates decided to make a business around smaller, personal pies, hence the name, Tiny Pies. But the idea didn't come from either of them.
"My grandson suggested that we make tiny pies so that they would go into his lunch better when he goes to school," Seay says. "He loves pies, and he would take slices of pie and they would be messy, or he would forget to bring the plastic container home, so his suggestion was, 'Why don't you make tiny pies?' and we thought that that was a pretty good suggestion."
Seay and Bates are based out of Austin, but sell their wares throughout the state at Central Market and several specialty grocery stores, such as Revival Market in Houston. Their products are also available by phone or online. The pair have also expanded Tiny Pies into catering, weddings and corporate gift giving. And it has been only three years since the two began selling their pies to the public at local farmers' markets in Austin.
"We came out with the original tiny pie, which is the three-inch handheld pie, and that's all we sold for quite some time," Bates says. "We started in January, and the flavors we took were apple, pecan -- it was seasonal flavors during that time, but we had a pretty limited assortment...we did the markets for about eight or nine months and at the end of that time, we were up to doing five markets a week, and at the very end of doing the market, we started doing more of an assortment of pies."
Aside from the original "tiny pies," the mother and daughter created pie pops, (two or three bites of pie on a stick), Mason jar pies (half-pint Mason jars containing five ounces of pie), teeny-tiny pies (pies the size of a quarter), and not-so-tiny pies (traditional-size pies). The original handheld pies are baked in muffin tins and come in a variety of flavors, including sweet potato pecan, apple cranberry, strawberry rhubarb, s'mores and chocolate brownie.
"Another thing that we started with the first day of the market was we took what we call our little cinnamon pie poppers, which are little cinnamon-roll bites that we make from our pie crust. We handed them out as samples, and those are absolutely delicious," Bates says. "We just take leftover dough from the pies and add butter, cinnamon, sugar and roll them up, slice them and bake them off. People can still buy those from us, but that was one thing we took to our very first market."
Currently, 70 percent of Tiny Pies' products (ingredients and packaging) are made by local Texas producers. Bates says that moving into 2014, they want to increase that number and use more products from local farmers and producers.
Looking into the future, Seay and Bates also hope to have a storefront next year.
"We have such a good response where we sell our products in Houston," Bates says. "Another distribution channel of ours is catering, weddings and corporate-giving events. We have so many brides in the Houston area that it might make more sense to even start in Houston. It would either be Houston or Austin."
While the original tiny pies are available only online or by phone, Houstonians can purchase the Mason jar version at Central Market or Revival Market.
"It's just filled with our filling [and] it's baked in the jar with the lid off for about 40 minutes, and then once it cools we put the true lid on top," Bates says. "The fun thing about the jars is that they are really great for parties, thank-you gifts, hostess gifts, things like that, because you can personalize the top of the jar with a sticker, or people put flags in them, or we make tags for them."
Seay says many receptions include a variety of pie products on a dessert table. However, Bates explains that pie pops are popular favors for weddings or events. Brides and grooms use them for place-card holders, table bouquets and treats for children.
"It's amazing to see how many weddings we are doing now where the bride and groom are serving pies only -- there is no cake involved," Seay says. "So a lot of times we will do a large pie for them to have at the photograph opportunity of cutting pie and serving it to one another, and then they have an assortment, like Kit said, of all the other products on a table, which makes for a really beautiful display."
Mother and daughter agree that the pecan pie is the most popular among brides and grooms.
"It's my grandmother's recipe. I actually baked it with my grandmother and mother," Seay says. "Amanda baked it with her grandmother...Our crust is a family recipe, and several others -- the apple and the strawberry rhubarb -- have been joint efforts of Amanda and I and our staff. Our kitchen manager has had a lot of influence into our recipes as well."
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Bates notes that the strawberry rhubarb pie is one of the most popular pies during the summer, and it's one of her favorite flavors. She grew up eating it, as well as her mom's rhubarb coffee cake. And with Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, Bates says her mom's pumpkin chiffon with pumpkin ice cream is her all-time favorite pie, but that's not the only one they have on their dinner table.
"Obviously it's a frozen pie. That's the quintessential Thanksgiving pie that I grew up with and that my kids have now," Bates says. "We grew up with apple pie, just the plain traditional apple pie. Last year at the Thanksgiving table, we had a sweet potato with the gingersnap crust; we also had bourbon buttermilk chess, cranberry apple and pumpkin ice cream."
It's no secret that the holidays are a special time for the mother and daughter. Seay and Bates believe pies bring joy to others. In fact, a sign on the front of their specialty holiday box reads, "Pies of Joy."
"We are still a pretty hands-on mother-daughter shop...it's all about customer service and making sure that the product is done right," Bates says. "To bring it back to Thanksgiving, one of the things Kit and I were talking about just recently, thinking about last Thanksgiving dinner...when we were all going around saying what we were thankful for, it was really nice to think of all of those other families around the country that were sharing our pies with their family tradition. That is kind of what keeps Kit and I going on hard days, thinking about how much joy it is that our products bring to other people -- that's why we do it."