Baker Anita Hyde is bustling around the quaint little kitchen, pausing to find a spot for a freshly baked strawberry pie to cool. A multi-level baker’s rack is brimming with flaky fruity and savory pies, the results of a productive morning. It’s a quiet Friday afternoon at Pie Heaven Café, but tomorrow “will be a different beast” for National Day Pie. Then again, every day is pie day at Pie Heaven Café.
Pie Heaven Café is a little slice of heaven situated in a charming blue cottage on Mayport Road. As owner and pie master, Hyde started the business in her kitchen to satisfy her craving for pie and raise money to help feed starving children. Pie Heaven Café fed both needs.
The menu features a tasty selection of fresh baked, handmade pies from sweet to savory. Pie Heaven Café offers a rotating daily menu with meat, fruit, quiche, custard, and gluten-free/sugar-free pies. Every dish is made from scratch using all natural, seasonal ingredients. Pick up a whole full-size pie or a mini-pie, or drop by for a slice.
Daily specials are listed on a chalkboard at the counter for walk-ins. Word of mouth keeps business humming. “We don’t take orders online, mainly because I’d never see them,” she says.
“We’ve always got some fruit pies and we’ve got quiche and chicken pot pie. We always have custard pies which have eggs, sugar, and milk in the recipe. It could be coconut custard, bourbon pecan, or chocolate. And then we go to the cold pies, which are the cream pies like a Margarita Key lime or chocolate cream cheese pie.” Hyde uses organic fruit and fresh, seasonal ingredients in fruit pies like blueberry, cherry, apple, strawberry, rhubarb, peach, and triple berry. The chicken pot pie is made with organic chicken stock-based gravy with cage-free chicken breast and mixed vegetables baked in a light and flaky crust. The Margarita Key Lime Pie is a top-seller made with graham cracker crust, tequila and triple sec. “It’s a pretty fun pie,” she says. “I have people come in who are key lime junkies. They come back over and over and say, ‘Your key lime is the best I’ve ever had.’”
Quiche is offered daily in savory mini-deep dish and family-size portions. Specialty menu items may include traditional mincemeat pie, shepherd’s pie, and a rich and labor intensive Beef Bourguignon pie. “Mincemeat was my mom’s favorite so every year I make a batch of mince meat which is just an amazing concoction of fruits and booze and spices,” says Hyde. “Once I run out of this batch of Beef Bourguignon, I probably won’t make it again for a year.”
With the help of her longtime friend and business partner Linda Holfinger, Hyde runs the business with two ovens, four part-time helpers and a generous appetite for creating delicious pies. With a background in catering, Holfinger has both the knowledge and stamina to keep the ovens full. Hyde spent 26 years in the commercial insurance industry before a well-timed corporate layoff gave her the time to get reacquainted with her oven. It also provided a unique answer to a specific request. Hyde wanted to make more money to feed poverty-stricken children and her will for pie came through in a big way.
“I’ve always known that my purpose was to help feed starving children, but how do I go about doing that? I knew I needed a business. And by the way, I’m craving pie so someone needs to open a pie shop, and it can’t be me because I don’t like to work that hard,” she says. “If you ask every person who has known me my entire life what is the most unlikely thing for me to be doing, they would say anything to do with food. I didn’t cook. At all.” She looked into real estate, stock broker, anything other than the food industry. She started baking to stay busy and satisfy her craving for pie. “There is no place in this town that you can just go in and sit down and have a slice of pie, even a crummy slice of pie,” she says. “So I thought while I’m laid off and looking for the next stage, I’ll bake some pies because I want them. But I’ll have to sell them because I can’t eat all the pie I want.”
Hyde started with a batch of organic pumpkin pies with coconut oil crust made from scratch. “I killed my first blender, bought a Ninja and solved that problem,” she says. But her hobby quickly outgrew her kitchen. “My husband said, ‘You can’t do this in the house anymore. I’d like to find the coffee pot and not have to worry about what you’re up to.’”
She returned briefly to the insurance business, but found she had developed a taste for baking. And she was really good at it. “Who knew?” says Hyde. “I went back for about 10 months, and that was necessary because my husband needed to wake up and realize that his wife needed to do something different. And he did. He said, ‘You really need to go do something that you really like to do,’ so I walked off my job like a teenager with no responsibilities, cashed in my last 401k, and proceeded to learn everything that I didn’t know, which was a lot.”
Hyde assigned herself a daily topic from city ordinances and restaurant regulations to recipes and sources for organic ingredients. “I would wake up and say, ‘What is it that’s necessary today?’ And I would get online and research,” she says. “I would research recipes and find something that I would want to eat. I’m really picky about ingredients. I mean, I’m not going to hang out at the health food store or the gym, but I do know the difference between hydrogenated oils and butter and what it does to your body. There are things that are just dirty for you.”
It’s hard to believe something like pie that tastes so good could possibly be good for you, and Hyde understands that better than anyone. As a pie snob with a purpose, Pie Heaven not only feeds her soul, but now she can eat pie anytime she wants to. “If I walk by a pie and it’s making me drool, I probably won’t even get a slice because it’ll be out the door before I can get my hands on it.”
Pie Heaven Café is located at 1980 Mayport Road. Contact them at 524-7274 or www.pieheavencafe.com.