Six years ago, neighbors nicknamed Jaynelle St. Jean “The Pie Lady” when she started offering free slices of homemade pie out of the window of her mother’s home in San Francisco. Eventually, her creations became so popular that she opened her own bakeshop, PieTisserie. These days, Bay Area dessert lovers flock to her storefront for her artistic twists on traditional pies; there, they can choose from a menu that has 40 different varieties of the dessert, from a beautiful cherry lattice to Okinawana sweet potato pie.
We popped into Jaynelle’s Oakland storefront to hear the whole story behind the creation of PieTisserie, as well as her thoughts on what sets her desserts apart (plus her best advice for making perfect holiday pies).
How did you get into baking pies?
Jaynelle St. Jean: I learned how to make pie from my high school boyfriend’s mom. She used to make blueberry-pear pie from scratch. After an amazing dinner, we would have this pie that just knocked my socks off, and she made it all the time. She said, “I’ll show you how to make it.” When I realized you could make an amazing pie from five or six ingredients, that spoke to me. That’s how I became enamored with pie.
How did that love for pie turn into your livelihood?
JSJ: PieTisserie started six years ago now, because I started to give away pie out of the window of my mom’s house in San Francisco. I dressed up the window of her house like a little house like a country window. I put up an awning with black-and-white fabric, and a windowsill that was made with pressboard, and I propped it up on a little bookshelf—that was my windowsill. I gave away free slices of pie to people walking by. I had just moved home from New York. I didn’t know what my next career move was going to be. It was Valentine’s Day, and I had just broken up with someone. I was back home at Mom’s after being away for a really long time. I thought it would be a nice thing to do. I never thought I would become a pie-maker for a living.
A friend of mine who’s an entrepreneur came that day, and he said, “You should start a pie business.” I had been toying with the idea of starting my own business around food and lifestyle, but I didn’t really know what that was going to be. I was like, “Maybe this will be my business.” I thought, How can I replicate this pie window experience? I built the jankiest mobile pie window myself, and the same day that I finished that, I met a friend of a friend who was an industrial designer. He said, “I think I know what you’re trying to make and I can help you.” So I had this pie window that I would take with me everywhere.I could take it to the farmer’s market or events at different companies. That was my business for a while. Then I did restaurant pop-ups, which gave me more consistency in my offerings; that gave me the assurance that opening the store was a good idea.
[Before PieTisserie] I had many careers.I was a legal assistant. I thought I might want to go to law school. I worked in sales and event marketing. I worked for an educational nonprofit as a recruiter. None of those things ever really spoke to me. I really feel lucky: I feel like I just stumbled upon this thing that’s so right for me.
What else about pie spoke to you?
JSJ: Pies are like my canvas. I knew how to make three pies when I started PieTisserie: blueberry-pear, pecan and sweet potato pie. From there, I started thinking: What other kind of pies can there be? I found this creative outlet.
When I decided to do this pie window giveaway, it was because I’d thought that it would make me feel better. What I actually didn’t realizes was pies actually speak to other people, too. People walked up and were just totally enamored with this experience. They were like, “How much does this cost?” and I was like, “No, it’s free!” I served it on glass plates, so they would have to stay there, and we could talk. So it was really about the experience that I could create through pies. That spoke to me, because I realized it was a vehicle for connecting with other people. Pies are part of Americana, and whether you’re from the East Coast or the South or the Midwest or California, there’s probably a pie that your grandma used to make.
What have you learned during your PieTisserie journey?
JSJ: It’s important to figure out how to be generous. No matter what, you have something to give to someone else. [When I started out], I was in a place where I didn’t have a lot, so it was uplifting. But I had no idea that PieTisserie was going to be born of that. The biggest lesson to me: If you feel like you want to do something that seems a little bit weird that’s not going to hurt anybody, you should do it. Because you never know in that one notion that you have that day what could be born from that. Here I am, six years later, making pies for Williams-Sonoma. Who would’ve thought?
What makes the pies you sell unique?
JSJ: There are at least 40 different pies on the menu: banana chai cream pie, mojito custard pie, kumquat pie, beet pie. The menu changes every month. And, I think, artistry: We do the lattice, take extra care with the edges of the pies, make sure they’re colorful. Cherry Almond Pie is my favorite right now; it’s a cherry pie on the bottom with almond custard over it.
What’s your best secret for the ultimate pie crust?
There is like nothing secret about how I make a crust. Keep it cold. This is what I have to say about it: Be willing to do it repeatedly, and be willing to enjoy your first attempt even if it’s not exactly the way that you want it to be.
Got a hankering for a slice? Right now, get her homemade pies shipped to your door in flavors like Salted Caramel Apple, Grapefruit Custard, Chocolate Pecan and Spiced Apple Pie.