Sister Pie: Detroit, MI

Photography by Jesse David Green

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.

Photography by Jesse David Green

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.

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