The Making of a Pot Pie Company
Jannie Teitelbaum Shares her Great Lakes Pot Pies Story
What do you do when you realize you’re nearing the beginning of retirement but want to keep busy to avoid boredom? That’s what I was trying to figure out. My career started in the financial industry, but I was driven to start my own business. I had an art business where I produced “table top”; hand-painted wooden bowls, trays, plates and dishes. I sold to boutiques and departments stores across the country. Then I started a jeans business where I resold designer jeans. I like the process of coming up with a concept, making a business plan and going for it. I like watching an idea take shape and grow. After the jeans business I thought I was done working, but that didn’t last long. I wanted to start another business.
When I was attending vendor shows for my previous businesses, it was always the food booths that had people around them. I always thought if I were going to start another business, it would be something with food. I just had to figure out what that would be. I researched recipes from chocolate chip cookies, to healthy bars, to soups. When I spoke with people about what they wanted, they said “dinner”. Meals were becoming a chore.
I worked on a chicken pot pie recipe, which was one of my favorite foods as a child. After a year of trial and error, I finally had one I liked. I took a chicken pot pie to a luncheon and people asked me where I got it. One person asked if she could order one. Of course I said yes. All of a sudden I was out shopping for packaging. That was five years ago.
Starting a home business shouldn’t be very complicated, but dealing with food isn’t so easy. I was making chicken pot pies in my kitchen but the business was growing so fast, keeping up was challenging. I eventually hired someone to help with food prep and cooking, then officially set up a Limited Liability Corp. I needed the LLC to formalize my company to be able to cook in a commercial kitchen and get my license from the state. Lugging food and equipment to another location, figuring out the logistics of it all, and getting the finished products to customers was challenging.
It was brought to my attention that farmers markets might be a good outlet for me. Waking up at 3:30am every Saturday and packing coolers wasn’t appealing, not to mention I’d have to give up my Saturday every weekend. But what happened was unexpected. I was selling out every weekend. The weekdays were spent making pies for the markets, plus some deliveries during the week to regular customers.
I was at a new sales plateau, but couldn’t keep going the way I was. That was when I decided to open a retail store. If anything, I could use the kitchen at the store to make the pies for the farmers markets even if the store wasn’t doing much business.
Finding a location wasn’t easy, but I realized it needed to be accessible for some of my regular customers. I found a location that used to be a cookie bakery. The buildout was outdated so the space had to be gutted. Through referrals I acquired an architect and contractor. I found a kitchen equipment company that also helped with the layout. The rest fell into place.
The expense incurred putting in a full kitchen and all that goes with that was daunting. The hood system is the barrier to some opening a food business. It’s expensive and requires a special fire system. I felt I had what it took to make this successful.
I had many skeptics, but I was confident I created a product that people want. I knew this from my experience at the farmers markets. I just needed to keep on track, follow my plan, and keep the food consistent. If a batch doesn’t come out right it doesn’t get used. Each batch has to pass the “ahh” test. That’s what keeps the customers coming back. We also had to let our customers know about how our system works in the store. The pies are sold frozen, but we heat some up in the store every day. A customer can also call an hour ahead and we’ll put one in the oven for them.
We came up with a way to provide a wholesome, home cooked meal while also creating a solution for busy people who want easy ways to put a good dinner on the table. Our pies are good for all age groups, whether it’s a teenager heating up a hand pie for a snack after school, or an older person who needs an easy meal to make. Our pies are freezer-to-oven-to-table. “Gourmet Made Easy” is our slogan, as it perfectly describes the foundation of our business.
We also ship pies nationwide. We use special shipping boxes. If the package needs to be shipped more than 3 or more days, we use dry ice.
A couple of things that set our company apart are our above and beyond customer service, as well as, our selection of gluten-free and vegan items. We have customers thanking us for having these options available. We try to greet everyone as they walk in the store. We want customers to have a great experience every time they come to see us.
-Jannie Teitelbaum, owner of Great Lakes Pot Pies, Clawson, Michigan