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How to Start a Pie Bakery – Journey of Rebecca Miller

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

How to Start a Pie Bakery – Journey of Rebecca Miller

There’s something heartwarming about a freshly baked pie, isn’t there? It evokes memories of family gatherings, cozy kitchens, and shared moments of joy. Behind each delicious pie is a story — and Rebecca Miller‘s is as rich and filling as the pies she bakes. Together with her mother, she breathed life into a family legacy and embarked on an unexpected, sweet-filled journey from the courtroom to the kitchen.

Rebecca’s tale isn’t just about pie. It’s a testament to resilience, creativity, and the enduring bonds of family. From using age-old recipes passed down through generations to adapting to the digital demands of the modern era, she and her family have embraced every challenge and turned them into opportunities.

In the interview that follows, Rebecca Miller offers a glimpse into her world: the evolution of Peggy Jean’s Pies, the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, and the wisdom she’s baked into her journey. Grab a slice of your favorite pie, settle in, and dive into this inspiring conversation with a lawyer-turned-pie-maker extraordinaire.

Rebecca Miller

The Beginning of Peggy Jean’s Pies

SBS – Can you share the story of how your business journey began?

Rebecca – Ten years ago, my mom and I started a pie bakery (Peggy Jean’s Pies). It was actually a reboot of her business that was open from 1994 to 2004 — she’s the Jean, and her very best friend was named Peggy. They opened with $400 and a solid survey of calling numbers from the phone book to ask if the resident would ever consider purchasing pie from a storefront (which actually seems so crazy for those who have never lived in a pre-internet world!). My mom closed the business in 2004 because Peg was very ill. She helped Peg’s husband care for Peg for the next year, and Peg passed away on August 23, 2005.

During this whole time, I actually attended law school, graduated, and became an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Missouri. After Peg’s death, my mom married and moved about two hours away, and they just enjoyed retirement life. I practiced law, and my husband and I had two kids, so mom would come every week and spend Wednesday nights to see us all. People recognized her and asked her to make them pie in her house, and they would pay her. One day, she looked at me and said, “I don’t know… Why don’t we bake pies together?” And I thought that being a lawyer/pie baker was a genius idea. (Spoiler alert: This was really dumb… It would just take me a while to figure that out!).

Financing and Initial Capital

SBS – Starting a business often requires capital. How did you fund your business initially, and did you explore any unique financing options?

Rebecca – We started up our plan to reboot Peggy Jean’s Pies. We had a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about changing the name or keeping it, but we decided to keep it because we did a Kickstarter campaign for start-up money. We had no funds and no assets either of us held without our husbands, and we wanted to do this totally in our names. So we raised $10k on Kickstarter (also, not enough to start a business) and moved forward.

I didn’t bake pies and had no clue how to run a business. Mom had a ton of experience, but she is so creative that all the skills you need for the administrative side of a business fell on me. We had no clue what we were doing. We really had no money, but we had a lot of passion. We worked 90 hours a week that first year, we fought a ton, I quit my job and turned my life upside down, and we just plowed forth. Woof. The further we get from that time period, I realize more and more just how insane it all was and, honestly, just how brave we were.

Fast forward ten years, and we have two locations and do over $1 million in sales a year in just pie. My husband actually left his career in healthcare to be a full-time member of our company, and now my kids — who were so little when I blew apart our easy life to start this — both work here while they are in college. Mom is 70 and works around 20 hours a week. We are working on our third location, but, like so many, we are wary of the economy and inflation, so it is a slow progression.

We are the absolute best at what we do — we make pie completely from scratch using my mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s recipes. Nothing here comes from a bag or a box. We don’t offer any food other than pie. Our White Chocolate Strawberry pie has been named one of the best pies in America by Food Network, and our store was called one of the Best Pie Shops in America by Country Living magazine.

A Day in the Life of an Entrepreneur

SBS – As an entrepreneur, what does a typical day look like for you?

Rebecca – For my typical day, I still do literally everything here. I bake, wait on customers, answer emails, help brides plan their wedding orders, do all our food ordering, merchandising, and social media, and write a popular blog on entrepreneurship. I’m usually here from 7:30 to 4:30 in our non-peak season and then go home, try to get in a quick walk, cook dinner, then work on the blog and talk with my husband about orders and plans for the next day. When we say we are a small family business, we really mean it — we are all in conversation about what we do all the time. I think that’s pretty much the case for all small business families in America.

Early Stage Challenges

SBS – What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early stages of the business?

Rebecca – We had two significant challenges in the beginning. Obviously, money is a struggle for most. We didn’t really have any resources and could only get a loan if our husbands co-signed, and we were really intent on doing this ourselves. So we raised $10k from Kickstarter, and short of that, we just didn’t get it if we didn’t have cash. For example, we were open for almost a year without an exterior sign because we couldn’t afford one. That’s a rough way to start. Our other challenge was just the learning curve. Being a lawyer doesn’t qualify you to own a retail bakery. I had so much to learn and to teach myself. I could have never guessed in a million years all the skills I would need to develop to be successful.

Valuable Lessons Learned

SBS – Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Rebecca – I have learned so much! Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can literally do anything… Or I can at least put a heck of an effort into figuring out what I need to know. I learned that I’m someone who can work extremely hard and not give up — I’m not sure if I believed that before I started my business. We would start working early in the morning when it was dark out and leave in the evening when it was dark, and I would literally be inside all day, just working. I had to figure out how to be someone who thinks about money in an entirely different way. I had to be someone who could hire (and fire) staff once we could afford them. The list goes on, but I had to make peace with myself that I could do anything and not believe in any other option.

Key Ingredients for Success

SBS – What key ingredients or principles do you believe are essential for the success of a pie business, both in terms of the actual pie and the business side of things?

Rebecca – In our pie bakeries, we make every single thing from scratch. These are all my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes, so it is just like baking in your home. That’s the secret to good pie — just be completely authentic in your ingredients. We also only make pie. People call us all the time for every baked good you can possibly think of, and there are so many holes in the market where we live. Someone could just do so well here if they did cheesecake. But that someone is not us — we do just pie, and we do it at the top of our game.  

Maintaining Quality in Peak Times

SBS – How do you manage and maintain quality across all your products, especially during peak business times?

Rebecca – One of my worries in opening a second location was maintaining the quality I thought maybe only existed because I’m really controlling in the workspace. As it turns out, it is more about putting the processes together to get the result of what you want. For example, what doesn’t sell in our stores one day is sold at half price the next day. And then we start all over, refill the shelves, and make everything from scratch.

I also train people to ask themselves if they paid for pie and got home and it looked burned, ugly, skimpy, or anything else, how would they feel about that? I would much rather our staff work to make beautiful pies than make a lot of pies that just look marginal. I always remind our staff the morning before Thanksgiving, right before we start thousands of pies, that we are honored to be a part of people’s holiday celebrations. We are a guest in their homes. We won’t make a poor showing or be a disappointment.

Business Tools and Resources

SBS – Are there any business tools, software, or resources that have been particularly valuable for the efficient running of Peggy Jean’s Pies?

Rebecca – I always joke that we have the most technologically advanced bakery in the United States! My husband has developed software that allows our closing team to enter inventory. That talks with the online ordering system, and then that talks with the par values I’ve established to make the perfect baking schedule. It’s catered to whether it is a Tuesday in July at our slowest time or a Saturday in early November because we’ve input the data. This allows so much success — we don’t always have to be the ones creating the daily baking schedule because we’ve removed the personal decision-making and based it solely on data.

Current Status and Future Outlook

SBS – How are you doing today (profitable, gross margins, etc.), and what does the future look like?

Rebecca – We are doing great! Our goal was to be a $1M company by our 10-year anniversary, and that happened in year 8. Over time, my husband left his 17-year career in healthcare to join our company, and now both of my kids are in college and work here. Obviously, I wake up at night and think about pie supporting our lifestyle and how stressful that is, especially as we battle current economic uncertainty. But can you imagine what my grandma — the creator of the original dough recipe — would say now to see her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren building a business off something she made every day? That’s pretty cool.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

SBS – What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the pie or baked goods industry?

Rebecca – For someone starting out, you have to love your business like you love one of your kids. It requires all of your being — your love, your commitment, your energy, your thoughtfulness, EVERYTHING. It won’t be easy. It gets easier, but it never gets easy. You have to be committed and know that you can be the best baker in the world, but if you don’t commit to learning all the other parts of your business, you are going to struggle. You have to be able to run payroll, cover the short shifts, take the trash out, wait on customers, answer emails, and figure out your goals and growth plans. You also have to listen to your gut and not give up when the whole idea seems completely ridiculous or impossible.


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How to Start a Pie Bakery – Journey of Rebecca Miller