By Cristina Garmendia, Culture and News Writer, MPP ‘13
As Kennedy students toil over problem sets and cringe at political discourse, many of us may idly daydream of alternate careers. Writer Cristina Garmendia interviews baker-extraordinaire and business owner Renee McLeod of Petsi Pies for a reality check.
Renee McLeod has been baking since she was a child but it wasn’t until she was asked to make 25 pies for a friend’s wedding that she realized she had a calling: “It was one of those moments that made time stop. I didn’t realize what time it was, I was just having a wonderful time making pies.” She made the decision in 2002 to quit her job as a graphic designer for Whole Foods Market and to focus on what she loved. Her bakery, Petsi Pies, named for her childhood nickname, opened in 2003 to rave reviews and praise for its naturally sweet pies, many of which have no added sugar.
Renee describes one of her favorite parts of becoming a business-owner, “A big reason why I started this was to give people jobs. I love the fact that I was able to create something that people can pay their rent or mortgage with and raise their children.”
However, Renee finds it very challenging to provide the 52 employees of Petsi Pies with what she considers their basic right to affordable healthcare. She covers 50%-100% of its cost for her employees. Renee explains, “Health insurance goes up every quarter. There are people I pay $800 a month for. I actually seriously consider whether I can continue doing this because I can’t afford people’s health insurance. But that’s how you keep good people so I can’t take it away. What I used to do before I gave health insurance was pay for people to go to the doctor. I gave them a certain amount every year. I wish I had kept that because it’s more cost-effective.”
One of Renee’s best pies, the pecan, may become economically extinct due to the rising cost of ingredients. Even though she is paying 80 cents more a pound for butter than they paid in December of 2010, she hasn’t raised her prices. The average pie takes seven ounces of butter and the pecan pie uses the most of all. “Pecan is the most expensive pie to make because the nuts are $9 a pound and the butter is so expensive. I wonder if I should continue to make it. It costs as much to make it as I sell it for. I should raise the price but I don’t know if the market will bear that.”
Petsi Pies has two locations, one in Somerville (285 Beacon St) and one in Cambridge (31 Putnam Ave). The Somerville location is where they do the baking for both locations and Cambridge is where they serve lunch items. They make around 20 types of pie, with the most popular and first to run out each day being Mixed Berry and Apple. New items for fall are pumpkin and chocolate whoopie pies and a roasted sweet potato-pecan pie. For holidays, pre-orders are required for guaranteed availability. Renee warns, “Everyone has to order a pie, even if you are the Mayor of Cambridge. The only person who gets a pie without ordering it is our garbageman.”
To learn more about the art of pie-making, contact Renee, “I’ll share recipes, I’ll teach anyone who wants to learn how to make good pie crust.”