Karen Heisler helped found Pie Ranch nearly 17 years ago in Pescadero and then went on to start Mission Pie five years later. But Mission Pie is closing on Sept. 1 due to economic pressures.
Pie Ranch, a fixture in the Coastside’s agricultural landscape, will not be affected by the closure of the pie shop, principals say.
“We evaluated a number of options to continue forward and didn’t find any that were compelling to us or that wouldn’t compromise our commitments,” Heisler said.
Heisler ended her involvement with Pie Ranch about six years ago, and Mission Pie was always an independent entity with a different purpose, she said. At the start, Pie Ranch would provide ingredients to Mission Pie to make pies to sell back wholesale to Pie Ranch. Then, Pie Ranch would sell the pies at its farm stand.
For a variety of reasons, including Heisler’s move to focus solely on Mission Pie, the two organizations decided to part ways years ago.
“As Mission Pie grew, and Pie Ranch grew, it became harder and harder to meet both the produce needs from us on the farm end and the production of pies on the commercial kitchen end,” said Jered Lawson, co-founder and co-director with Pie Ranch.
Pie Ranch was also struggling to get its nonprofit status approved because their IRS reviewer did not understand the relationship between a nonprofit and for-profit business, Lawson said.
The distance played a part as well. Pie Ranch has been working with Companion Bake Shop in Santa Cruz for more than 10 years, which is a shorter commute than San Francisco.
“We thought it would be better to work in parallel,” Lawson said. “(We) still shared similar values and similar missions.”
Pie Ranch is a nonprofit with a stated mission “to cultivate a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training and regional partnerships.” Heisler described Mission Pie as a for-profit business that has sought to provide high-quality food made with high-quality ingredients at an accessible price.
With Mission Pie, Heisler hoped to break down the dichotomy that “private sector is kind of the source of our ills and the public sector is the sector of repair.”
“That dichotomy is not something I can support,” she said. “I need to believe that we can make our private sector good, healthy and ethical. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade.”
Heisler isn’t sure what’s next after her tenure in the pie world comes to an end.
“I think it’s probably important to have occasional moments where we don’t know,” she said. “It’s an important time to sort of make good choices. ... There’s no shortage of challenges that we face as a region and a nation. I hope to make a good choice about how to contribute for the next chapter.”
Although there are no direct economic consequences from Mission Pie’s pending closure, Lawson sees it as representative of the problems small local businesses face.
“That even (Mission Pie) with all the community engagement and support cannot survive, to me, is a worrisome sign that our local food movement is going to struggle more,” Lawson said.