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American Gothic Pie Stand Opens Saturday!

Pie patrons can enjoy their pie & coffee at picnic tables

I’m committed now. All it took was a front page article in Iowa’s biggest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, to seal the deal. On Monday, October 11, the reporter, Kyle Munson, declared to the world that I would be selling pie at my new home, the American Gothic House. Uh, yeah, okay. Guess I better get busy.

So yesterday I took the big journey to Des Moines, where I went on a shopping spree — in this order — to Office Max (for signage), Bed Bath & Beyond (for a coffee pot and thermoses), Costco (for plates, napkins, forks, coffee cups and a folding table upon which to set everything), and Wal-Mart (for disposable pie tins, a covered cake/pie plate, and a cast-iron skillet which was not for pie but I needed one and it was $7 cheaper at Wal-Mart than for the Emeril brand one at Bed, Bath & Beyond.)

After dropping $300 on supplies I loaded up my covered wagon, I mean my MINI Cooper, and made the two-hour trek back to Eldon wondering a) how many apple pies I should make, b) how much I should charge for pie slices, whole pies and Starbucks French Roast (there will be no weak diner coffee served with my pie!), and c) if I’m crazy for moving to rural Iowa and thinking I can start a pie business. For one thing, many people in this town of 998 already make damn good pie. And several residents (ahem, Arlene Kildow and Janice Chickering) are legendary, blue ribbon-winning pie bakers. They certainly don’t need me, some highfalutin West Coast pie baker-to-the-stars, to get quality pie. And two, how many pieces of pie will I have to sell to recoup my $300 investment? Considering we’re heading into winter soon, that could take until next summer.

What Kyle Munson didn’t write about in his article was my business plan. Kyle asked me how much a slice of pie was going to cost. I squirmed, shrugged my shoulders, looked down at my feet, I did everything but answer his question. Then pointing up at the kitchen wall I answered, “My problem is this.” He looked up at my huge foam board sign, decorated with a red and white checkered tablecloth border, emblazoned with huge letters that read: FREE PIE. “I don’t think I’ll ever make a good businessperson because I like giving pie away. If you would come into my shop feeling down I would say, ‘Oh, it looks like you could use a piece of pie to cheer you up. Here you go. No charge.’ Um, not a great business strategy.”

I read a book once by a guy who calls himself the “Pitbull of Personal Development.” It’s called “Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life” by Larry Winget.  My retention is terrible when it comes to books and film, but more than a year later one sentence still stands out. Winget writes, “Saying things like, ‘I have never been able to do that well’ will only perpetuate the fact you will not ever be able to do it well. Saying ‘I’m not good at math’ does not make you better at math.”

I am not good at math. I am not good at business. But I am going to change what Winget calls “limited thinking.” I am good at math — and I’ll be even better at it now that I bought that calculator at Wal-Mart yesterday. I am good at business — and I am going to honor the fact that I, like most people, need to earn a living. Not to mention, pie ingredients are not cheap. Therefore, the next thing on my To Do List today — right after paying my overdue cell phone bill — is make a price list to display on my folding table. It will be a small, almost apologetic price list, but it will have numbers on it. And, like a good businessperson, I will bravely, boldly ask people to part with their cash in exchange for a slice of my homemade-with-high-quality ingredients pie. It will be painful at first. But I will get used to it.

I may be a Big Picture person when it comes to pie, but with my retail efforts I’m going to start small. For now, my pie shop is a six-foot-long table — a pie stand, if you will. Think neighborhood bake sale. If things go well — IF YOU BAKE IT THEY WILL COME — I may graduate to a pie cart. Shirley, the mayor of Eldon, said there’s one, a converted camper with a mini-kitchen, available at the Wapello County Fairgrounds. And then, someday, when I prove to myself that I am capable of commitment (gulp!) and that I can run a business without giving away my products for free, you just might find me hanging a shingle on a real storefront.

All this to say, the Pitchfork Pie Stand (at least that’s the current name) is officially open for business. “Doors” open at one p.m. on Saturday, October 16. I might even serve Champagne to my first customers to celebrate. At no charge.