There is nothing more American than a piece of pie. Pie is an iconic dessert that has captured the hearts and appetites of Americans for decades with its humble, flaky crusts and heavenly fillings.
Serving pie at a restaurant is certainly nothing new; however, “pie bars” are a new phenomenon that’s bringing this quintessential dessert to a new level within the restaurant realm. These eateries are serving handcrafted, custom-made pies, just like mom used to make, with creative flavor combinations ranging from sweet to savory and anywhere in between. These pastries are often enjoyed with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and even adult beverages – sometimes inspired by the sweet confections. As this beloved dessert takes center stage and becomes the star of the show, reinvented pies with authentic concepts, fresh ingredients, adult beverage infusions, and eye-catching presentations are impressing customers and making a tremendous impact on the industry.
Pie bars are appearing in cities across the country like New York, Chicago, and Seattle. This sweet concept is not yet a craze, but a rising trend that has already significantly impacted pie sales. According to the Nielsen Company, there has been a 10.1 percent sales increase in the slice/half pie category and a 28.7 percent sales increase in mini pies between February 2016 and February 2017. The American Pie Council also reports that total pie sales have been growing steadily – now at about $1 billion per year. While the pie bar concept is still somewhat new, it’s making waves due to its captivating foundation: a nostalgic, shareable experience that brings people together to enjoy next-level treats paired with hot drinks or innovative adult beverages in a cozy atmosphere.
PIE STATIONS TAKE THE CAKE
The influence of this up-and-coming concept is so significant that pie bars and pie stations are replacing the iconic tiered cakes at weddings. Many operations cater pies in a variety of inventive ways including whole pies that serve hundreds of guests, miniature pies or pie slices in select flavors, or pie pops. Another popular wedding trend is offering pie jars, slices, or mini pies as wedding favors for customers to provide their guests a comforting appreciation for attending their special event. Some pie bars cater a range of classic flavors such as blueberry-cream, pecan, or peach-raspberry, and others use their catering services as an opportunity to introduce customers to more intriguing combinations such as banoffee (made from bananas, cream, and toffee), butterscotch-pudding pie, or chocolate-rum mousse pie. These eateries are known for creating incredibly personal pie-eating experiences, and many include personalized garnishes, special messages, and elegant displays in their catering services.
A SLICE OF PERFECTION
Consumers crave eating experiences that take them back to their youth, and pie bars fit the mold by serving fresh classic confections as well as new twists on old standbys. On many pie bar menus, you’ll find traditional flavors such as blueberry, cherry, and coconut cream, but you’ll also see trendy, creative combinations such as matcha buttermilk, nectarine blueberry, and strawberry balsamic. Artisanal pies may demand high price points because they are precisely executed and made with the highest quality ingredients. However, many consumers overlook the price tag because of the transparency, authenticity, and freshness of these house-made desserts. Some operations offer pies on a first-come, first-served basis, furthering their fresh-made appeal and creating higher demand. Several pie bars also allow for pre-ordering and ordering pies online for pickup. This strategy aligns with the ever-increasing customer demand for takeout, the fastest growing segment of the foodservice industry. Offering pies to-go makes the experience more convenient for customers and allows pie bars to expand their customer base to those who may only want the experience of taking these confections to go.
Pie bars go far beyond the mass-produced pastries with traditional flavors of cherry, pumpkin, or apple. These eateries display an appreciation for pie and its limitless boundaries, using it as a blank canvas to showcase diverse ingredients and unique flavor combinations. Some sweet pies start with the classic flavors, then use simple pairings to elevate the profile such as ginger pear, mango raspberry, or peach blackberry. This trending concept is an excellent reminder that these pastries aren’t limited to sweet flavors. T ere are countless operations that offer mouthwatering savory pies such as chicken pot pie, pulled pork, curry chicken, meaty mac and cheese, pesto veggie, and smoked salmon. Pie bars have also embraced the demand for customization, offering several sizes like classic whole pies, half pies, pie slices, mini pies, pie jars, and more.
What differentiates one pie bar concept from the next is how the offerings are presented and how the brand story is conveyed. Some pie bars are known for utilizing only natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and unrefined sugar in their pastries while other establishments may accommodate vegan or gluten-free customers or those who enjoy adult beverages. For example, Pie Bar Capitol Hill, located in Seattle, WA, caters to those who crave sugar and booze. With drinks inspired by classic pies such as Apple Pie Moonshine Mule, Strawberry Crumb Pietini (pie + martini), and Nutty Marnier (hazelnut espresso vodka, coffee, Grand Marnier®, and whipped cream), their offerings speak to their brand and their mission. Other pie bars that offer alcohol increase the intrigue of their cocktails by incorporating fresh purées and alcohol-infused whipped cream while others might showcase a seasonal beer and wine menu that keeps things simple, classy, and familiar. Presenting pies to go is another aspect that captivates customers. It gives them the option to purchase a sensational pie when they’re on the go and take it home to the family. Some establishments serve only grab-and-go pies like Pie Mobile also located in Seattle, WA.
IT’S ALWAYS PIE SEASON
The handcrafted pies at pie bars are uniquely delicious because they are often made using local, seasonal ingredients. Fresh local fruits and vegetables make a significant impact on the flavor of house-made pies and customers will notice the difference if a pie is made with these ingredients. This can often increase the pie’s appeal and price point. Updating pies seasonally is another way to entice customers who want to taste something new any chance they get. Try seasonal fruits for sweet pies such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pears, and peaches, and seasonal veggies for savory pies such as peas, carrots, potatoes, Swiss chard, parsnips, zucchini, and radishes. The wide assortment of Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) fruit from Bountiful Harvest and fresh produce and herbs available through Maines Produce are excellent options for custom-made pies.
A PEEK INTO POPULAR PIE BARS
A pie bar pioneer, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, located in Brooklyn, NY, serves delectable pie slices with wine or beer. When they first opened eight years ago, they didn’t realize this concept would take off as much as it did. They update their menu seasonally and always have new pie flavors in the works to keep things fresh and exciting. Some of their signature flavors include Salty Honey®, Black Sesame, Matcha Custard, and Lavender Honey Custard.
Florence Pie Bar located in Florence, MA, offers a rotating selection of sweet and savory house-baked pies as well as soups, quiches, scones, cookies, and savory galettes. They are proud to source much of their fruit, vegetables, eggs, and dairy from local farms. They have 72 different flavors in their pie library and feature certain pies weekly based on what’s in season.
Pie Bar, located in Woodstock, GA, offers a variety of pie sizes from whole pies and mini pies to itty bitties and pie pops. Customers can sign up for their “Pie Club,” an on-going monthly club for pie-lovers who get access to one whole pie per month or eight slices per month at a set price. Some of their signature flavors include Salted Caramel Apple Streusel, Hoosier Sugar Cream, Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, and Bacon, Cheddar, and Chive.
The Pie Bar in Long Beach, CA, serves up an array of sweet pies, savory pies, cute pie jars, and pie shots. Th ey open the door to a broader customer base by serving vegan sweet pies such as Apple, Marionberry, and Rhubarb, as well as gluten-free Bourbon Pecan and Key Lime. Th eir cute pie jars are a customer favorite as they are portable and allow diners to get a taste of a delicious treat without committing to a whole pie. They also market the jars for catering parties or as a gift item.
Pie Bar, located in Seattle, WA, lists each pie on the menu with an alcohol pairing. Their “Baker’s Selection” menu item is a Desserted Island Pie made with strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, Granny Smith apples, and streusel. They also off er “Pietinis” (pie + martini) with fl avors including Key Lime, Lemon Meringue, Strawberry Crumb, and Dutch Apple, as well as spiked coffee and spiked hot chocolate listed on their menu under “Warm & Fuzzies.”
Pie Bar Ballard, also located in Seattle, WA, serves savory pies, fruit pies, cream pies, and nutty pies. Their savory pie selection includes pot pies such as Chicken, Steak & Ale, Turkey and Stuffing, and Chicken Enchilada. Each savory pie is served with a salad featuring arugula, shredded beets, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. They also have an impressive beverage selection that ranges from dessert cocktails, wine, and spiked coffee to beer, cider, and non-alcoholic drinks.