GR Gets Slice of Grand Traverse
Grand Traverse Pie Co. of
Actually, Grand Traverse Pie Co. is more than a bakery. It is a bakery-café, similar to Panera Bread — only it is focused on pies. Each shop is a bakery and a café with a complete menu for dine-in, take-out and catering, meeting a wide range of tastes in breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu items include a variety of baked goods and sandwiches — and everything pie-like, naturally including quiches and pot pies. There are also quesadillas, wraps, soups and salads. The lunch menu alone features more than 30 items.
But pies were the launching pad for the success of Grand Traverse Pie Co., and its specialty — cherry pie — brought the company to the attention of the likes of celebrity chef Mario Batali and the Food Network.
Mike and Denise Busley didn't know anything about making pies when they decided to change careers in the mid-1990s. The
In 1995, with kids ages 5 and 10, the Busleys decided they wanted to move back to
At first, the outlet was pies-only; mainly fruit pies made with
The tart cherry harvest can fluctuate wildly from year to year, due to crop-killing frosts, but the harvest has been as high as a market-glutting 297 million pounds (2001), so any successful, large-scale use of tart cherries makes a lot of
The Busleys did their homework on making pies — the secret is in the crust — and word spread of their delectable pies made with
"I don't think I've had as good a pie as the Grand Traverse Pie Co.'s cherry crumb pie. It's a religious experience," wrote Batali.
Today, the stores use more than 1 million pounds of
Early on, the Busleys realized they had to expand beyond pies for a successful, year-round business. Mike Busley said the overall best selling item on the menu is probably the company's cherry chicken salad sandwich. And the best-selling fruit pie is cherry.
"It has been from day one, and always will be," said Busley. "We use a lot of apples, a lot of cherries and a lot of blueberries (grown in Michigan). Probably half (of all the fruit used) is cherries."
The pies can be ordered on-line for delivery or pickup, and come in a variety of sizes, from a small, six-inch mini pie to a 20-inch pie that feeds 60 people or more. The standard-sized (nine-inch) pie ranges in price from $13 to $16.
Total annual sales from all the shops combined is probably around $15 million now, Busley said.
"Each store runs like the original here in Traverse City," said Busley, "making all the pies, baked goods … everything The only item they don't make in the store is the pie dough, and that's made up here so we can control the quality and consistency."
The pie crust "is really the most critical element," added Busley.
The Standfests own all Grand Traverse Pie Co. franchise rights in
Cherry pie may be a religious experience for Chef Batali, but Standfest is approaching the pie business from a real religious experience: He is the pastor of
For the time being, he will remain in
"It will be a career change, over time," said Standfest, regarding his new venture in the for-profit business with Grand Traverse Pie Co.
Standfest said his family is very close-knit, stating, "We started looking for opportunities for us as a family. We weren't even thinking about the Grand Traverse Pie Co."
The family's ideas had been ranging farther a field, even to out-of-state possibilities. But for several years they had been buying the company's pies for family get-togethers. One day it dawned on them that the product "was something we all believed in," describing it as "the Cadillac of pies." And that was one of its obvious marketing strengths, he added.
"If you ever have an event where you want to impress the people you are bringing together, you have to have Grand Traverse pies," he said.
In addition to the original store in Traverse City, Grand Traverse Pie Co. stores are now located in Burton (near Flint), Okemos, Sterling Heights, Brighton, Petoskey, Ann Arbor, Mount Pleasant and Norton Shores. Busley said other new stores will open this year in
"This is the first time I have owned my own business. It's wonderful," she said.
The café is busiest on Saturdays, and it is open every day of the year. Divita said she also does a lot of lunch catering during the week to businesses and other organizations — "a lot of doctors' offices" — saying about 15 percent of her business is catering. Catered lunches run an average of $6 to $8 per person.