by Anita Miller
KYLE – Life sometimes comes at you in slices. Just like pie.
On the same day last March that Texas Pie Company owner Julie Albertson learned she had been chosen as the Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered most of the state shut down on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While she could have let that take the wind out of her sails, Albertson instead saw it as just another reason to adapt — something she’s done for most of in her life ranging from her profession (a former banker) to the way she runs her iconic business (with a bakery that operates around the clock). If you’ve been through downtown Kyle you can’t miss it — it’s the one with the oversized piece of cherry pie above the awning.
Albertson and her husband Spencer first opened their doors in April 1, 2000 in the Center Street building over 100 years old that had been most recently used as a storage space for hospital beds. Since then she has expanded the bakery — which now features more than 30 flavors of pie in addition to quiches, casseroles, sandwiches and catering. She has 17 employees, some who have been with her since the beginning, who work in round-the-clock shifts to turn out sweet and savory treats that delight the palates of one of the fastest-growing towns in Texas.
She was able to keep her workforce on the payroll through the COVID-19 shutdown partially because she was able to get a paycheck protection loan.
Her pie credentials actually go back much farther. When she was barely of school age in the East Texas town of Spendora, she was often at her grandmother’s elbow as she baked, sometimes standing on a milk crate to better follow along.
“I grew up having a mud pie kitchen,” outside her grandmother’s real one. The 50-acre farm sold eggs and milk and vegetables. “They would drive up and honk their horn. I was the person who took things out,” she recalled. “It was an awesome childhood.”
Many of her recipes came from her grandmother, including the “pie puck” starter dough that four years ago exalted Albertson into the rarified ranks of H-E-B’s “Quest for Texas’ Best.”
“I heard about it three times in one day. I took that as a message from God that I needed to apply.”
She wrote a 1,000 word essay explaining her signature dough and why it is so easy to work with (nothing frozen, no ice water). H-E-B thought that was a brilliant idea.”When you step into her shop (long lines make it stand out in the weeks before Thanksgiving) the sweet aroma hits you first. Then you begin to notice the preponderance of pie paraphernalia. Albertson says the germ of the collection was hers, but it’s continually augmented by customers who bring in something that caught their eye or something handed down through their family.
“We have rolling pins over 100 years old and antique mixers. People give us things and I try to exhibit them. It’s awesome that people do that. It’s one of the things I never anticipated.
What best marks the Texas Pie Company as iconic is, of course, oversized slice of pie signage. That came about through a revitalization grant from the city of Kyle. It was designed by Lynn Wilkerson of Great Big Signs and Albertson said it wasn’t her favorite choice, nor immediately widely accepted in the community. “People said ‘we’re not Disneyland,’ but they came to love it.”
The SBA award is just the latest in a long list of accolades and while she is “amazed and honored” by it, Albertson notes that there are “a lot of other women who could’ve, should’ve gotten this.”
She takes it as one more reason to continue her advocacy for Texas and its small towns, and takes only partial credit for the city of Kyle billing itself as the “Pie Capital of Texas.”
“I am part of the reason,” she allows, adding it’s all been a “dream come true.”
In the coming weeks, the Pie Company will begin gearing up for its busy season. Amazingly, the small bakery turned out 30,000 pies last Thanksgiving and expects that again this year despite the coronavirus. And throughout it all, she will continue to adapt her menu and anything else that calls for it. “One person asking means 1,500 that need it.”
All told, it’s a pretty sweet story.