Pie Fixes Everything at Poorhouse Pies
Can pie be a catalyst for world peace? Possibly. Jamie and Paula Eisenberg, the owners of Poorhouse Pies in Underhill, Vermont, certainly think so. The motto on their sign says, “Pie Fixes Everything” and after one bite of their key lime pie, one might stop to revel in its tangy creaminess and think, ‘Yes. At this very moment everything is just fine.’
Poorhouse Pies is the very definition of a “cottage industry.” The two women started the company by turning a backyard shed into what is likely the smallest store in Vermont. There is only enough room for two small fridges and one salivating customer contemplating whether to go with the blueberry-oat streusel or the ever popular chocolate cream. Payment is done on the honor system with a lock box; a notepad and pencil are always on hand for suggestions and comments. A recent note on the board was a customer’s to-do list. It read, “Sleep, Breathe, Get Pie from Poorhouse Pies.”
If customers crave face time with the proprietors, they can come by Sunday when Paula and Jamie prepare at least eight different kinds of donuts plus sundry pastries such as angel-food cake. Be sure not to wait too long past their opening time of 8am as they tend to sell out by 10am. Maple bacon donuts are the most popular with key lime coming in a close second.
Paula and Jamie started Poorhouse Pies in 2009. They had both been in the food industry; Paula was the lead baker at Healthy Living and Jamie a teacher at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). When the economy tanked, Jamie was laid off and detoured into pet-sitting for a while before realizing her heart was still in the culinary arts. She and Paula, who have been married for ten years, considered the prospect of their own bakery and joked with each other that the enterprise just might land them in the poorhouse. Thus Poorhouse Pies was born.
From the start, Paula has been the main baker, her specialty being the fruit pies. Jamie tackles the cream pies and handles the business end as well as being chief box constructor. They both make the donuts, which have become so popular that in the rare event they take a Sunday off, they have to leave town so as not to deal with hordes of disappointed customers, a hazard when you work out of your home. Jamie said when they first started with the donuts, people were so excited they began stalking the house as early as 6am.
All of the pies are made fresh with as many local ingredients as are available. They barter for rhubarb in the spring, get their eggs from hens who roost in a coop across the street and don’t even bother with an apple pie until the local apples are available. Their maple syrup is from the Burgess sugarhouse in Underhill and the blueberries are picked at a farm down the road. The pies are made with a double crust or have their signature oat-streusel topping.
Sales at Poorhouse have doubled every year they have been in operation and Paula now bakes full-time. Their reputation, spreading outward from Underhill, brings in steady business. In addition, they have picked up accounts at other venues such as Hartman’s Farm stand in Enosburg Falls, which orders up to 120 pies a week in the summer. Jamie, having been spooked by uncertain times, still holds a job outside the business for stability and health insurance. Plus she also loves teaching. She currently works at the Community Kitchen Academy, teaching low-income Vermonters culinary skills very similar to those she taught at NECI.
That baking at home would bring them great happiness has been no surprise to the Eisenberg women. What has been a revelation was how the business has brought the neighborhood together. Jamie says, before Poorhouse Pies, she didn’t really know any of her neighbors very well. Now they come to her doorstep once a week and she knows everyone up and down her block. Watching the children come with expectant faces reminds her of going to get donuts with her father when she was young, and she likes that her shop is the fulcrum from which a neighborhood of children are creating new memories with their parents. Ultimately a pie shop in a backyard shed may not singularly cause world peace, but being at the root of a moment of bliss, in a small New England town, is a good start.