“Bureaucrats: they are dead at 30 and buried at 60. They are like custard pies; you can't nail them to a wall.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
After a week of watching nothing but news of the marathon bombers in Boston and the almost footnote coverage of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas and the Gosnell trial I needed to take a breather. I needed to get away from the pundits and talking heads with their opinions on the causes of the Boston bombings and the contribution to the fog of news.
So on Saturday morning my wife, daughter, and I decided to drive some 70 miles from our home to the little hamlet of Santa Ysabel for breakfast and to but a couple of Julian Pies. It was a beautiful morning in Riverside and San Diego Counties where State Routh 79 would take us through the rolling, rural countryside. The yuccas and cactus were in bloom and although not in the quantities we have seen in the past there still patches of yellow, blue, and pink wildflowers along the roadside.
We reached the town of Santa Ysabel around 10:00 am and the first this we did was head for the Apple Country Restaurant for a hardy breakfast at a very reasonable cost. After breakfast we walked about 20 yards to the Julian Pie Bakery just north of the restaurant.
The Julian Pie Company became a reality for Liz Smothers in September of 1986. It all started when she and a neighbor began peeling apples for a local pie shop where she was soon employed to bake and sell pies. Tim, her son worked after school rolling dough. Liz’s husband Keith had a full-time job at the time working for AT&T. That would soon change as be began the study the art of orcharding. It should be noted that Julian, California is famous for its apple orchards and its apple cider.
Recognizing her expertise, two other pie shops hired her to bake for them. While Liz enjoyed the activity and baking for the pie shops, she had a desire to be creative on her own and not merely bake someone else's pie. With the assistance of a friend and emphasis on quality control and clean, neat surroundings, the Julian Pie Company began.
In 1989, Keith and Liz purchased an apple farm and with the help of son Dan, 17,000 trees were planted to supply fresh apples for the pie shop. While the orchard occupied much of Keith’s time, Liz’s expertise was in the kitchen ensuring quality control. Her goal was to produce a pie that would capture the essence of the small mountain town of Julian.
Being the youngest of eight children, Liz attributes the love of pie making to her mother. "One of my fondest memories is standing on a box beside my mother putting leftover pie dough in a metal jar lid to make a pie." Today she attributes the success of the pie shop to her dedicated team of bakers and staff.
On any given day you will find Dave, the oldest son, managing the Julian shop while Tim, the youngest son, heads up operations at the Santa Ysabel location. Daughter-in-law Brandi assists with the bookkeeping. Eldest daughter Joni and son Dan, while still supportive of the business enjoy other levels of success as an author and an electrical engineer.
Liz, while still participating in her love of pie making, leaves much of the overall operations to son Tim. Today she continues to oversee quality control and customer satisfaction and in addition serves as a consultant and primary resource for start-up businesses.
With a growing demand for Julian pies in local markets, the need to expand the production resulted in the opening of the Santa Ysabel facility in 1992. Keith was instrumental in helping Liz open this second location for the Julian Pie Company. Together they designed and purchased equipment for this new facility. In those early days Liz would bake the pies and Keith would deliver them. Julian Pies now delivers pies to San Diego and Riverside counties as well as shipping pies throughout the United States via their Internet site.
The Pie Companies busiest time of the year for Liz and her 45 employees is Thanksgiving. Ten days prior to Thanksgiving the “Thanksgiving Bake” as Liz calls it begins. During this period an average of 35,000 pies are baked and shipped and the bakery in Santa Ysabel
The Pie Company runs 24/7 during this period. Hundreds of pies are baking in the ovens while dozens of employees, each with a very specific job, work on an assembly line basis to get these pies out the door and to the Thanksgiving Day table. The vast majority of these pies are shipped via Federal Express to the on-line customers and the 79 retail outlets across the country with the Albertsons’ supermarket chain being their largest retail customer.
It starts at the “18-wheeler peeler”, a huge machine where apples are put in two at a time and the machine peels and cores them. The apples must be 2-5/8 inches in diameter for the machine to work properly and the staff makes sure that no seeds or peels are left. People don’t like seeds or peels in heir pies.
When possible, The Julian Pie Company use locally grown apples but there aren’t nearly enough apples to meet the demand, so most of the apples come from other parts of the country. Also different apples are used for different pies.
In 2007 the company invested in four massive ovens, each of which can bake 120 pies at a time. The pies rotate in the ovens as air circulates, ensuring that each pie is browned exactly the same way.
Each pie weighs 2.85 pounds or very close. He pies are made by hand, which means their weight might be off by a slice or two. A mixture of apple cider and egg whites is bushed on the tops of many of the pies to give the crust a golden brown color when baked. But it’s the crumb-toped pies that are the big sellers by a ratio of 2:1. According to Liz Smothers it’s the crumb-toped pies that keep them in business
Everything is made in units of ten for quality control. Ten pie crusts at a time — a bowl of crumb topping for ten pies.
The company does very little advertising, but it has been written up in many food and travel magazines and the Food Network cable channel did a documentary about the company in 2001.
The Julian Pie Company sells approximately 400,000 pies each year and at $14 dollars per pie that’s a gross revenue of $5.6 million dollars per year. They use 175,000 pounds of flour, 127,000 pounds of sugar, and 800,000 apples each year. And all of this comes from this approximately 5.200 square foot facility located on the little town of Santa Ysabel (33 6 35,-116 40 28)
I had been to the Julian Pies shops in Julian and Santa Ysabel before but this time I wanted to learn more about the pie baking business so I took some time to question the sales girl while Kathy and Gwen were seeking out the pies they wanted to purchase. Kathy wanted a pie to take home and eat (I suggested the apple/peach crumb) and Gwen wanted a frozen apple pie to take to her friend in Albuquerque on Monday. (Yes, they sell frozen unbaked pies that you can bake at home with instructions packed with the pie). She also purchased a dozen of their scrumptious apple doughnuts.
The sales girl was very knowledgeable of the company’s history and business practices. As the sales room was not too busy at this time she was able to spend some time giving me the information I was asking for.
Almost all their pies contain apples. Their pie menu includes:
The original traditional apple pie like grandma used to make with Granny Smith apples. This is their legacy apple pie.
Dutch, same as original apple pie, but has a sweet crumb top.
Natural, made with sweet apples and sweet apple cider. No preservatives, artificial flavors or sugar added. Tastes like a sweet apple cooked in its own juice.
Boysenberry Apple, a layer of boysenberries, topped with apples, has a crumb top.
Pecan pie with fresh pecans in a rich flavorful filling.
Strawberry Rhubarb, old fashioned favorite with sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, has a flavor all its own.
Pumpkin Pie, a holiday favorite, has a rich spicy flavor.
Peach Apple, sweet sliced peaches layered with apples, has a crumb top. This is one of my favorites.
Apple Mountain Berry, Raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries tossed with apples and has a crumb top. This one is really good.
Raspberry Apple, whole raspberries layered with apples. Has a crumb top.
Cherry Apple, with tart Michigan cherries layered with apples and has a crumb top.
Blueberry Apple Crumb, whole blueberries mixed with tart apples with a sweet crumb top.
Blueberry, a pie packed full of blueberries to satisfy your blueberry craving with a crust top.
Blackberry, a country favorite bursting with flavor with a crust top.
To view a full on-line menu of their pies with clickable thumbnail images click here.
If you want to take the time to visit one of the Julian Pies stores here are the addresses.
Julian Pie Company 2225 Main Street, Julian, California (760) 765-2449
Julian Pie Company 21976 Hwy. 79, Santa Ysabel, California (760) 765-2400
You don’t have to buy a whole pie as they sell slices that can be eaten with a cup of their various coffees at counter or on the patio of the Julian store. However, I think after tasting a slice of a Julian Pie you will want to take one (or two) home. A trip to Julian for a breakfast or lunch and a pie makes a relaxing day to get away from all of the hustle and bustle in life.
The Apple Country Restaurant
The Julian Pie Company – Santa Ysabel
Some of the pies
The sales office and counter
The friendly sales girl
For a complete gallery of photos click here