For The Love Of Baking
There’s nothing fussy about the somewhat unexpected location of Pacific Pie Company’s flagship shop on the east side of town. In what used to House Roots Organic Brewery, the below-street-level restaurant is now burnished with Australian regalia, including the nation’s flag hung evidently behind the counter. What’s more than a tribute to co-owner Chris Powell’s motherland, Pacific Pie Co. produces good pie with good ingredients by good people.
Co-owner and baker, Sarah Curtis-Fawley, who is also Powell’s wife, ran into the restaurant’s front door dressed in an all-black baker’s uniform. I sat quietly in front of a painted mural of the Australian outback, waiting for our interview. Sarah rushed over to my place in the desert, explaining she had to fill in for a sick baker at their recently-opened NW 23rd location. “The joys of running a small business,” she said with an apologetic smile.
I scanned the room. Lengthy articles, interviews, and noteworthy references from national publications, frame the front entrance; an impressive lineup of savory and sweet pies span the menu board; and workers hustle in and out of the kitchen in black uniforms smudged with white powder. It’s the little things, like locally sourced ingredients, hours of perfecting a recipe and filling in for an employee that turn a pie into a bakery.
I always say that Pacific Pie Company was born out of a longing for home. My husband, Chris, and I moved to Philadelphia from Australia in 2008, and Chris (a native Aussie) was homesick for all things Australian, including meat pies. I started baking savory pies for him, and pretty soon the idea to start a pie shop grew into a full on the business plan. We considered many different parts of the country but ultimately decided that Portland would be a great fit for us personally and for our wacky business idea. We packed our car, drove across country, and a couple of months later we were selling our pies at local farmer’s markets.
Australian meat pies are meant to be ‘hand pies,’ so the filling isn’t as ‘saucy’ as American style pot pies. We strike a balance between the Aussie and American style—you can certainly pick up our pies and eat them out of hand, but there is enough gravy to make our American customers happy!
In 2009 you and Chris began selling pies at local farmer’s markets and then launched your original cafe in 2010. Was this your first introduction to professional baking?
Neither Chris nor I are trained chefs. I have always been a totally-obsessed eater and home cook, and when Chris was missing his meat pies, I just dove into pie baking and learned as much as I could. The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum was a fantastic resource—I baked my way through tons of her recipes and slowly increased my confidence and knowledge of pastry.
Where do your ingredients come from? Does this affect the quality of the pies?
Using high-quality ingredients are absolutely key to making great pies. In Oregon, we are so lucky to have access to such an abundance of beautiful, well-raised fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Over the course of the year, we source ingredients from lots of small farmers, and I love going to the farmer’s markets to get inspiration for seasonal pies.
Why is sustainability and supporting local farmers important to you?
It should be important to everyone! First of all, eating local produce is delicious. Plus, it keeps money in our local economy and allows small farmers to stay on their land. Food security and preserving our local foodshed is going to become increasingly important as drought affects more and more of the country.
You were a psychology and women’s studies major at university. How has this influenced your perspective about the food industry and what has your experience been as a woman in the pie-making business?
My degree in Women’s Studies (University of Virginia) has definitely affected the way I view almost everything, from history to global politics to my own marriage. As a business owner, I am very conscious of acting as a role model for my staff members and also being a good citizen of the Portland community. Pacific Pie supports a lot of nonprofits, with a special emphasis on environmental and wilderness conservation organizations, as well as nonprofits in the anti-domestic violence arena.
If you were a pie, what kind of pie would you be?
Probably, Whiskey Apple Pie because I like things that are classic with a little twist.
Other than the ingredients, what else does it take to make a pie?
A lot of patience and care. You can’t just bang out a pie—pie takes planning and love. We take a lot of pride in the fact that all of our pies are handmade. As we have grown, we’ve gone from baking dozens of pies to hundreds of pies at a time. That has required a massive shift in the way we plan our days and manage inventory, but we still make everything from scratch and with a lot of heart.
What does the future hold for Pacific Pie Co.?
We just opened a food cart (located at Base Camp Brewery in Southeast Portland) a few weeks ago. After that, Chris and I looked at each other and said ‘Ok, no more locations.’ But then just a week later we started thinking about another restaurant. So, we shall see. After six years in business, I have learned that you never know what is around the next corner.
Pacific Pie Company
Photos by Kim Nguyen