WATERLOO – It took about a year to raise the dough, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Try Pie Bakery will roll out the grand opening of its new storefront at 522 Mulberry St.
On the menu: Freshly baked mini pies with perfectly crimped edges — apple, peach-blackberry, cherry, pumpkin praline and apple-pear-cranberry, to name a few — and ice cream scoops for going a la mode, Sidecar coffee and whole frozen pies to take and bake at home.
Try Pie Bakery is more than a pie shop. It is a nonprofit teen employment program that gives young women from area high schools their first job opportunity. Kitchen experience is served up with a classroom curriculum that includes financial and job skills, building relationships and faith-based components, said Megan Tensen, who co-directs the program with Sarah Helleso.
“Our mission statement is ‘Empowering teen girls in life and leadership skills through meaningful work.’ They gain employment experience and get paid, but they also learn core values and build friendships with girls they work with,” Tensen explained.
Having a storefront will add customer service to the girls’ skill set, said Helleso. “They’ll be able to meet the people who are buying and eating their pies.”
Try Pie Bakery was established in 2013, a youth development program of LINK CCD, the partnership between Orchard Hill and Harvest Vineyard churches. One of its goals is developing youth employment opportunities.
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While brainstorming entrepreneurial ideas, Tensen and Helleso and their group of interested girls were told “what we need here is home-baked pie.” Research led to a similar program in Minneapolis, but a scheduled trip to the Cookie Cart was canceled. Instead, the group wound up in a pie-making class with a professional baker and caterer in Des Moines.
“It was a pivotal experience. She taught us how to make a good pie crust, which is harder than you might think. We still use that recipe today, and she shared her recipe for cherry pie which we still use,” Tensen noted.
For the last five years, the bakery has worked out of the Orchard Hill Church kitchen in Cedar Falls. As demand grew, so did the need for space. Try Pie established a fund with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa to raise $50,000 for a storefront operation, said Helleso.
One substantial gift in particular, from the Gary, Becky, Eric and Elizabeth Bertch Family Fund, was presented at a Community Foundation event where the bakery catered pies. JSA Development and Orchard Improvements renovated the building at 522 Mulberry St.
Now the commercial kitchen gleams with stainless steel and plenty of work space, while the front features pie displays, a freezer case and two tables for lingering over pie and coffee.
The bakery recruits ninth- through 12th-grade young women from Waterloo East and West, and Cedar Falls high schools, as well as nearby schools such as Dike-New Hartford. Presently 11 girls are in the program. They work between seven and 12 hours each week. Volunteers and mentors also are involved.
Each shift begins with a rundown of the baking schedule and work assignments and an inspirational, faith-based message. Twice a week, the employees gather for a meal.
Fifteen-year-old Mariah Ambrose heard about the program through church. “I wanted a job, and I like baking, although I’d never made a pie before. I knew it was faith-based, and I’m a faith-based person. I saw that as a benefit,” said the East High School student.
Ambrose has worked at the bakery for 1½ years and admits it’s been challenging. “Crimping the pie edges … that’s the most difficult thing. They have to look a certain way for consistency, and I got so frustrated when I couldn’t seem to do it right,” she said. But it didn’t take her long to get the hang of it, although she still prefers making pie filling.
On an average day, about 30 large pies and 200 mini pies are produced. Try Pie also fills special orders for sale at several local businesses, including Hansen’s Dairy locations, and has expanded into catering and weddings.
Ehku Htoo, a 16-year-old East High student, has been working at Try Pie since August. Baking and pie making are not part of her Asian culture. “So it’s been a new experience for me. I didn’t realize there are so many steps involved in making a pie. I’ve never had a job before, and it’s a good opportunity for me,” she said.
Try Pie hours are noon to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The store is closed on Thursdays and Sundays.