Firstly, my friends are leather smiths who specialize in hand-crafted shoes. After catching up in their studio in the heart of Chinatown one afternoon, my friend suggested we go get a slice of pie at "The Pie Shoppe", just downstairs.
Luring me there with the promise that I'd soon be eating organically sourced ingredients skillfully turned into puff-pastry pie on the premises, and drinking home-roasted, third-wave coffee for free: how could I refuse? And how did he have this hook-up? Well, him and his partner earned it by bartering custom leather shoes (with coffee beans exquisitely hand-burned into the toes) for a deliciously limited supply of pie and coffee from 'The Pie Shoppe's' co-owner Stephanie French, whose other half Andrea and her, comprise the functional binary owning and operating this easily overlooked gem, nondescriptly hardening it's mineral through edible social lubricant and bean alone, just off Gore and East Georgia.
Pouring in, we passed a simple sandwich board outside. Stuck bubblelessly on the front window was a decal displaying 'The Pie Shoppe' in typographically sound, under-gussied font. Inside sat a modest wing chair with a dapper Asian boy in it. He was on his computer and wore under-stated suspenders. Otherwise, The Pie Shoppe felt like a compact production kitchen. There was stainless steel, there was white, it was only 310 sq feet and the only luxury was a phonograph machine and fifty-piece vinyl collection on the wall above the pour-over station. There was pie and there was coffee; no espresso and no apologies.
I pulled one of two stools up to a slab of butcher's block that a) was used for pie production b) acted as the desk for a new age iPad payment system and c) became the dining table / pie bar for saddling because the single wing chair was already politely occupied. Seating capacity is 5, Standing capacity is ten or less and there are two chairs and a table out front.
After my leather smith split, I haunted around like grazing equine and tasted some tantalizingly emotive blueberry pie - made from locally sourced Island Farm blueberries and Anita's Organic Flour - and drank Stephanie's own third-wave Panoramic Roasting Company coffee via a traditional pour over process using custom hand-made ceramic.
Everything inside was designed by the expanding collective of designers, engineers, and artists who call themselves friends of the French Sisters and it was erected in only nine days.
"So how did this all get started?"
"The Pie Shoppe started... wow." Stephanie says, distracted politely by the still marinating nostalgia of it all. " Well, Andrea and I emptied our pockets and our bank accounts in November 2012. My sister dropped out of school, we stole her tuition money and signed a lease for December first."
"What about the initial momentum?"
"Well, I've always made things. I just do this stuff, I don't have an explanation. I finished my degree at Emily Carr and thought it was time to do something. Andy and I thought about doing it just for a month at first. You know, just a pop up. But we ran the numbers and it was too expensive. So instead, we took a six month lease here, with no lawyers, no one you're supposed (italics) to grab when doing this because that's just more cost."
The available sibling, subjected to my impulsive questioning during a relatively busy service period is a petite dough-eye'd woman with both corporate calculation and an affably sleepy confidence in herself and her abilities. She's made and sold art all over the world, did product development and kitchen creation for BC Ferries, Whole Foods, wrote grants for artists with the BC Craft Council and a host of other corporate and grassroots gigs within the spheres of Art and Food.
Her sister Andrea, four years younger, covered in tattoo's and 'thick skinned' according to the elder sibling wouldn't be around the shop today. "We make a good combo, you have to meet her" she continues between sales of The Pie Shoppe's staples: chocolate pecan and apple pie to wide-eye'd customers who walk in the front door faster than the cozy real estate allows, noticeably slowing the majority of people who come through the door down - which is a nice touch.
"Andy is amazing with people and has a real no bullshit attitude, which is what the food business is about. You won't get CUSTOMER SERVICEEEEEEE here," she says flamboyantly, startling me with her mock insincerity. "If you want that, go somewhere else. We've worked behind the scenes for so long, we'd hang ourselves first. It's our 310 sq feet, so we do whatever we want."
And this is the essence of The Pie Shoppe. Andy's sincerely genuine disposition combined with Stephanie's practical expertise.
"What's tricky about these articles is that people don't get it," French says, trading a baker an entire apple pie for six loaves of bread before my eyes. "It'll reach an audience that doesn't know us or the way we operate and then they come in and they don't understand that there's no peach pie, there's no banana creme pie..." she laughs and smiles, momentarily meeting the eyes of the baker before coming back to mine, and wishing him well as he turns on his heel.
"If the fruits are in season around here - or as far as Chilliwack or Abbotsford - then we may make it. If not, sorry."