As far as Detroit businesses go, Sister Pie may just be having the best year ever. Owner Lisa Ludwinski blew judges away at this year’s Hatch Detroit competition, securing a $50,000 grant. She acquired a permanent storefront in the West Village and is working on renovations. She hired a inventory manager and additional staff. She expanded her wholesale operations. Most recently, her pies sold out the day before Thanksgiving in 15 minutes at Parker Street Market. And through it all, she’s been working seven days a week to churn out the pies, cookies, muffins, and scones that have earned her a serious foodie following.
Originally from Detroit, Ludwinski fell in love with the food industry while pursuing theater in Brooklyn. Taking a do-it-yourself approach, she started with a YouTube series filmed in her kitchen. She progressed to working in two local bakeries, and returned to Michigan on a scholarship to study baking at Avalon International Breads and Zingerman’s. Soon after, she moved back to Detroit and began planning Sister Pie’s Thanksgiving 2012 launch. Back then, she did everything herself out of her parents’ kitchen in Milford.
Today, Sister Pie bakes out of the Hannan House kitchen in Midtown and sells at Germack Coffee Roasting Co. in Eastern Market, SocraTea in Midtown, and Parker Street Market in the West Village, located across from the future Sister Pie storefront.
“[Selling at] Parker Street was a defining moment,” Ludwinski says. It proved the demand was there, and that people were willing to travel for her goods. The more time she spent at the market and in the neighborhood, the more she realized that West Village would be the perfect home for a brick and mortar Sister Pie. She put a deposit on a former hair salon at the corner of Parker and Kercheval and armed with a solid business plan, entered the Hatch competition.
Since then, growth has been steady … but slow. Ludwinski likes it that way.
“The hardest thing to learn is patience,” she says. “But it’s something that you learn from baking, and going slow has been worth it.”
Instead of rushing things, Ludwinski has been focused on gradually building a community of diehard pie fans. Community has long been an important value to her; she cites her experiences in theater as teaching her the value of collaboration. As a result, a commitment to the community is a driving force behind her business. It’s even in the Sister Pie mission statement, and it’s easy to see that Ludwinski practices what she preaches. Whether it’s through Shut Yr Piehole, her podcast with Eastern Market’s Fiona Ruddy or her Thanksgiving recipe cards, a collaboration with Risky Biscuits, Ludwinski is committed to reaching out to as many people as possible.
With more than 2,000 followers on Instagram, she’s doing just that. Followers of @sisterpiedetroit can see just what the company is cooking up … and it’s not just food. Instagrammers can catch Ludwinski and inventory manager Anji Reynolds up to all sorts of antics, including dancing, singing, and the occasional air drum solo in their popular #dancebreak videos. It’s also the place to get a sneak peek at new offerings and updates on renovations through the hashtag #futuresisterpie.
“My goal is to tell a story,” Ludwinski says. “People support you when you tell them what you’re doing, and I want to share as much of this process as possible.”
Community is also part of why so much progress has been made at the future Sister Pie storefront, where workdays are hosted and anyone from “friends to totally random folks” show up to help transform the space.
Perhaps most importantly, the idea of community is why Sister Pie exists at all.
“I like communal food,” Ludwinski explains. “I like the idea of pie’s tradition on farms. Families working together to make food. I also like how receptive it is to seasonal changes. Pie was always what I turned to when I wanted to bake something, so I wanted to pursue that.”
Sister Pie’s offerings change monthly and often blur the line between sweet and savory in reinterpretations of old favorites, like apple sage gouda and salted maple pumpkin pies. Buckwheat chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt are a staple of the Sister Pie cookie menu, and Ludwinski redefines shortbread with this month’s trio of buttered rum, juniper olive, and tangerine tarragon. She also experiments with scones and muffins. In everything she makes, Sister Pie uses high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients and Ludwinski often posts pictures of her weekly haul from Eastern Market on the company’s Instagram page.
Looking ahead, Ludwinski is shooting for a spring opening at the future Sister Pie location. The plan is to feature baked goods, of course, but “simpler, healthy stuff” like breakfast pastries and porridges and salads with seasonal vegetables will be sold as well. She seeks to fill the void of breakfast and quick lunch stops in the West Village.
“Every neighborhood needs a good bakery,” Ludwinski says.