This is what surrounded Detra Denay Davis on a busy afternoon last week:
Stacks of open boxes. Printed labels. And 100 orders for sweet potato, pumpkin and apple crumb pies.
There’s no doubt Thanksgiving has brought in a swell of business to Davis’ fledgling pie bakery, the Charlotte Pie Authority, which in two months has sold more than 200 large deep-dish pies, hundreds more smaller ones and generated between $2,500 to $3,000 in sales.
“Everyone wants something different,” said Davis, 58. “There’s nothing better than a homemade pie.”
In the weeks leading to the holiday, she’s taken orders that range from the traditional to the fanciful.
One of her more recent customers was a woman who ordered 30 pies so each guest at her dinner table has their own.
“People love to be able to cater to their guests,” Davis said. “They want to impress.”
To meet holiday demand, the bakery has taken to social media to remind customers that “Thanksgiving will creep up on you” and set deadlines for submitting orders, said Jessica Davis, Detra Davis’ daughter and business manager.
“You don’t want to show up to the family dinner empty-handed,” she said.
Nor should you contact Detra Davis if you suddenly realize you have no desserts for the dinner table. The last day for Thanksgiving orders was Sunday.
Thanksgiving is vital for the pie company, marking what Detra Davis expects to be one of her biggest sales seasons of the year, followed by Christmas.
With the prospect of baking more than 100 pies by Thursday, Detra and Jessica Davis used social media and their website to keep pie production streamlined ahead of the holiday fervor.
Visitors to the Charlotte Pie Authority’s Facebook page are treated to a visual smorgasbord of scrumptious desserts and videos of Detra Davis rolling pie crust. On Twitter, the Davis women tweet a Thanksgiving Day countdown to drum up excitement and provide direct links to their website.
“It’s easier for us to manage the inventory (on the website) ... versus having people email us and contact us on Facebook,” Jessica Davis said.
Year-round, customers submit their orders on the website and choose which day they want to pick up their pies. Those requests are then placed on a calendar that the mother-daughter duo monitor to keep track of how many pies need to be made by a particular date.
From there, Detra Davis can start baking. And bake she has.
Since starting the bakery, Detra Davis, her daughter and their part-time helpers have worked the occasional 24-hour day. They’ve accommodated customers who wanted small pies for party guests or a number of pies to hand out at a pig pickin’.
The pies are made from scratch, their flavors ranging from the sweet to the savory. Detra Davis uses a special recipe to create her own flaky crust.
Five-inch pies cost $5.95 and larger 9-inch pies can range between $22 to $24. For the Davis women, the payoff is worth the price. The pies are deep-dish and rich – “very deep, very heavy” is how Detra Davis describes them.
‘All day and night’
While new, the Pie Authority doesn’t buckle under the pressure of the holiday season. That’s because they know their limitations, Jessica Davis said.
Because the pies are all homemade, the wait time is a tad longer than what customers might get from a contract packer that mass-produces the pies in a machine, she said. But customers don’t complain.
“If your product is good, they will understand,” Jessica Davis said.
Providing stock to farmer’s markets and bulk supply stores helps, too. The pies can be found at the Mecklenburg County Market, which is located on Harding Place behind Carolinas Medical Center, Healthy Home Market stores in Charlotte and Davidson, and Greeneman Farms at the 7th Street Public Market.
Last week, Healthy Home Market asked Detra Davis to bake 100 pies in time for the Thanksgiving rush, on top of nearly 30 orders she received from individual customers.
She doesn’t fret.
Pie-making has been a 40-year labor of love for Detra Davis, who first started cooking when she was 8 while her parents and siblings ran the family store.
“I could bake all day and night if I didn’t have to sleep,” she said.
After leaving the U.S. Navy in the early ’80s, she applied for a job at the Hyatt Regency in her hometown, Dearborn, Mich., winning over the head chef with a quiche.
She later opened a catering business in Detroit, Cooking with Denay, and took it with her to Wake County, where she sold pies to farmers markets in Raleigh. She closed the business and moved to Charlotte to be closer to her daughter.
A few months later, she thought to herself: “You love to bake pies, why not continue?”
She formed the Charlotte Pie Authority, using the City Kitch, a commercial shared-use kitchen in Charlotte’s University area, to bake. Though new to the Charlotte business scene, Davis is confident her pies will speak for her.
“I want it to be simple. I want it to be delicious,” she said. “Every time you get a pie, it’s like a pie for the first time.”