The Pie Shop in the “Middle of Everywhere"
Lisa’s Pie Shop
By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka
When Lisa Sparks told her husband, Jim, she was going to quit her factory job and open a pie shop he was mad. So mad, he packed his bags and left for three months.
“He thought I’d lost my mind - everyone did,” the 56-year-old said.
It might have had something to do with the fact everyone knew Lisa didn’t like pie. In fact, she still doesn’t.
“I’m a cake eater and my first intention was to decorate birthday cakes. But, this might sound silly, I just kept hearing God tell me ‘pie,’” Lisa said. “I kept arguing saying ‘I don’t like pie.’ You know how you reason out something in your head? Why would he want me to do something I’d never done and don’t like?”
Lisa made three promises to her husband – she wouldn’t borrow money from him for the pie shop, she’d never get the couple in debt, and if a year went by and the business wasn’t paying for itself, she’d get a job.
That was 32 years ago.
“If I needed a new oven or something I didn’t go to the bank to get it – I waited until I had the money so everything in this shop is paid for,” Lisa said. “Even today when Cisco delivers I pay right then. That’s also why I only take checks or cash.”
Lisa started the pie shop out of her home. Her first official storefront was in Kempton. In 2002 she opened at her current location on US-31 in Atlanta on the Hamilton County – Tipton County line.
“Everyone thought we were crazy and said it was out in the middle of nowhere. If you look at where we’re located, most would probably say that. The truth is we’re out in the middle of everywhere,” she said. “We have people who come from all over the world to the shop and probably at least 10 - 15 new customers every week and that’s without ever advertising - just word of mouth and Facebook.”
On any given day Lisa makes hundreds of pies - 28 different types of pie - from apple to cherry to humbleberry - a mix of red raspberries, rhubarb, blackberries and apples. Her husband makes the dough and her niece, Rebeka, and adopted daughter, Honey, stir the creams, but Lisa’s the only one who makes the pies. And, she has a few secret ingredients in those award winning pies.
“First of all, I use fresh fruit and I don’t use corn starch or flour very often for thickeners for the fillings. Instead, I really like tapioca for the filling,” she said. “But, I can’t tell you the secret to my crust.”
Lisa’s pies have won state and national contests, and she’s been featured on TV, including the Food Network. She’s also won top honors at the APC National Pie Championships in Orlando. She’s currently creating new recipes for this year’s contest in April.
“My husband’s my taste tester and I’ll put it on Facebook and people can come in and try them and give feedback,” she said. “The hardest thing was to get people to tell the truth because they thought they’d hurt my feelings but I want the constructive criticism.”
Pie in a Jar
Each pie features hand drawn fruit art on top. The first few years, Lisa hand painted the art but soon found herself too busy to continue that tradition.
Another tradition - Pie-in-a-Jar. Lisa won’t sell a pie that’s more than 24-hours old. Leftover pie is canned and is shelf stable for eight months. But these days, it’s rare for there to be leftover pie. So, Lisa make the pies in giant pans. Pie-in-a-Jar has been shipped to troops overseas, to college students and is a camping favorite.
A typical day for Lisa starts at 3 a.m. and you’ll often find her at the shop until 7 or 8 p.m. She’s closed on Sundays to spend time with her family, as well as Mondays, but often goes into the shop.
As for the future, Lisa’s currently considering equipment to help automate the process - arthritis and pins and plates in her shoulders make it hard to move her arms. But she worries automation will change the look of the pie.
“So many people go out of business because it’s not the same product anymore but if I can get a piece of equipment and it’s still my product then I’ll do it,” she said. “If I can’t, I’m not sure what to do because I can’t keep working the hours I’m working.”