“Our business plan was not for success. It was for like, ‘OK, if pie doesn’t work, we can add cookies to the menu.’”
The first five years of Emporium Pies’ existence was reacting to overwhelming demand. Figuring out how to scale up their recipes and production on the fly to satisfy immediate demand. Making a plan for their No. 1 holiday, Thanksgiving.
“Our business plan was not for success,” she says. “It was for like, ‘OK, if pie doesn’t work, we can add cookies to the menu.’”
If they could pay themselves and two or three other employees, she and Sparks thought that would be a success.
The shop sold 300 pies in three hours on its first official day in business in 2012, and it sold out of Thanksgiving pies three weeks before the holiday.
“People were like, ‘How does a pie shop not have pies for Thanksgiving?’”
Their Thanksgiving ordering and pick-up system now runs like a machine.
Wilkes says she began coming up for air about five years ago, applying for loans instead of operating on cashflow and planning more for the future.
That’s also when the company began to codify its systems and processes into employee handbooks. The Auto-pie-lot algorithm came together less than two years ago, combining multiple spreadsheets that Sparks developed over the years.
“To be a good steward of the amount of space and equipment and talent that we have, we’re going to need to open more stores,” Wilkes says.
Emporium Pies opened a new store every two years, and she is itching for the next one.
With a degree in interior design and an MBA she has a formula for locations.
“I’m the kind of person who falls in love with a building first,” she says.
But there also has to be a barbecue place and a burger place withing walking distance.
The Deep Ellum shop triangulates between Pecan Lodge and Easy Slider.
That store opened because the Bishop Arts store was “maxed out,” Wilkes says.
“We knew we wanted another Dallas location,” she says. “It’s really a proxy for Bishop Arts, and that store has done really well for us.”
March 14 is the shop’s second-busiest day of the year because the date is 3.14, pi day.
In 2020, that was the day before Dallas County issued shelter-in-place orders because of the coronavirus.
Wilkes and Sparks saw it coming, and the company managed to sell its thousands of pi-day pies and rent three trucks to move all the furniture out of the shops overnight. They devised contactless systems, where customers could order, pay and receive their pies through a window.
That was paid for by a Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant from the U.S. Small Business Association.
Since then, there have been some challenges with supplies. Wilkes purchased cardboard-box futures after a shortage left her scrambling to find them for Thanksgiving last year.
Insect-borne cherry diseases have caused woes this year.
Employee retention has been high, she says. Anyone exposed to COVID-19 was given immediate two weeks paid time off.
The pandemic slowed the company’s growth a bit, but a PPP loan and business savings provided insulation.
“It really does take the whole team to get anything done every single day. It’s the entire team,” she says. “And that’s not just us, that’s every restaurant.”
Wilkes and her husband, Paul, moved with their two daughters from the Winnetka Heights neighborhood of Oak Cliff to Lake Highlands a few years ago.
“Of course, I found a house that I loved,” she says. “It’s a ’70s modern built for this one guy, and it only had two owners.”
Their kids are in RISD schools, and they love Zato Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar.
A Lake Highlands outpost of Emporium Pies is not out of the question.
“It’s our fifth store in 10 years,” she says. “I want it to be a homerun, so it feels a little bit scary. There are so many good neighborhoods in Dallas where I think it would thrive.”