Words By Ambar Ramirez
Located behind a row of businesses in Riverside, through a path filled with greenery and florals, one will find the pie shop, Mixed Fillings. Though you may not see it immediately in passing, you’ll definitely be able to smell it. It’s as if Chef Natasha Burton places a freshly baked pie on the windowsill, allowing the aromas to attract hungry passer-byers.
It all started when Burton got an Easy-Bake-Oven for Christmas when she was just five years old. It was when the light blew out in the toy oven, that the light within turned on, she loved baking. She begged her mom for a new oven for years, but it wouldn’t be until Burton was ten years old that she would upgrade to using a real oven.
Still, the idea of one day running a pie shop was out of sight for Burton. After graduating from Culinary school, Burton got a job as a cake decorator.
“I was hired to be a cake decorator, but I had no experience and so they said they were gonna banish me to the pie department,” Burton said. “Nobody liked making pies so they said you can just make the pies for us and so I started doing that and then I started getting good.”
Despite being ‘banished’ there, Burton gave her all into baking and learned to love baking pies for more reasons than one. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or in this case, pie.
“I found it was very therapeutic for me,” Burton said. “I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and I have C-PTSD and, I realized when I was baking that just the repetitive motion and just, you know, like the aromas and just everything about baking, it really, really helped to relax my anxiety, [and] relax the depression I was having.”
Through the power of baking, Burton healed. And having found baking pie to be a joyful experience, it was just the beginning of a long, successful journey. Along with her friends, Burton was trying to figure out the best way to market their non-profit “Society of Survivors”, which is when she got the idea of pie and community being inherently tied. For pie invites the idea of sharing.
“And then I just kind of put two and two together,” Burton said. “How else do you get people to share food.”
Having originally started during the pandemic, ‘Mixed Fillings’ began solely as a delivery service. With the plans of initially wanting to be wholesale becoming difficult with restaurants being closed, Burton took matters into her own hands.
“We decided to just go direct to the consumer,” Burton said. “So I, uh, built a website on Squarespace and took a photography workshop from a science teacher here and put the pictures on there.”
Burton recalls her aunt being proud when she sent over the link to her website before it was even official. So much so that her aunt shared the link through Facebook, unaware that the website was not live yet. Burton immediately started getting orders. The business took off on its own, eventually leading up to the opening of the speakeasy pie shop on Oak st. Still, since Burton is all about growth and sharing, there are plans to expand and eventually make ‘Mixed Fillings’ a franchise.
“We wanna actually turn it into a franchise and actually be able to help women of color like myself to start their own businesses,” Burton said.
When it comes to running a business, Burton knows what she’s doing, regardless of being self-taught. Most of her inspiration and will to run a business stems from her love for her family and her love to share. When her son was “stinking” up the house with store-bought, microwavable chicken pot pies, Burton decided it was time to come up with a recipe of her own. Just one of many recipes inspired by Burton’s personal life.
“You can be a woman that has a business and has a family and enjoys both,” Burton said. “And it’s because of my family that I do the things that I do. That’s what drives me. That’s what drives me to have the type of hours that I have, to create the types of products that I have.”
Baking pie has resulted in a lot of full-circle moments for Burton. Ironically, having been banished to the pie department since she had no experience decorating cakes, now Burton’s favorite part about baking pies is the decorating part. She also recalled another surreal moment when she was doing a photo shoot for her business. She was getting her makeup done while two little girls sat next to her and looked at her like she was a model.
“I never thought I would be in a position where I’d have little kids look up to me,” Burton said. “It’s so cool to just know that there’s people that are looking up to you and I feel like I have to do this so other people know they can.”
I walked away with a slice of ‘Blurred Limes’, ‘Pure Bliss’ (lemon, lavender), ‘Wake Me Up Before You Cocoa’, and ‘Peanut Butter and Jealous’. Needless to say, not a single person at your holiday parties will have mixed feelings about this pie. After all, pie is the perfect dessert to have at the dinner table for it is meant to be shared.