Indeed, putting her adventurous palate to work in Detroit took some trial and error. Early recipe tastings, says Lisa, often came back with feedback like “this is just a bit too much.” But it didn’t take long to figure out which experiments actually worked.
“I want to make food that’s creative and interesting, and maybe does challenge what [people think] pumpkin pie would be,” says Lisa, whose tahini-butternut-squash pie counts the New York Times’ columnist Tejal Rao as a fan. “But I don’t have to do that in a way that’s like a novelty or discourages them from eating it.”
That combination of Midwestern pragmatism and creative experimentation carries throughout the shop, bolstered by Lisa’s “triple bottom line” approach: to run the business with social equity in mind as much as profit. There’s a Pie-It-Forward wall, where pleased customers can pay for a slice of pie for a stranger in advance, and day-old cookie goods are 50 percent off. A china hutch christened the “Piebrary” serves as a repository for both mismatched coffee mugs and cookbooks ranging from chef Yotam Ottolenghi to a compendium of Michigan recipes.
It can be tempting, amidst all that charm and whimsy, to return to the philosophical questions. You may begin to cast a hater’s eye upon the staff shooting an Instagram video to post. But then you notice that half the staff are African-American young women, one of them a single mom, and their presence helps reflect the city as a whole. You may have ordered a slice of salted maple that felt indisputably bourgeois, then realize you ate it alongside a city housing inspector and a day laborer, all of you treating yourselves to a luxury with a forgiving price tag. So when you ask yourself, Is this even real? You realize, with both pleasure and relief, the answer is yes.