Pie business finds its sweet spot in Mountlake Terrace

Any way you slice it, the Snohomish Pie Co.’s opening of its second store in Mountlake Terrace was a sweet success.

Owner Jenny Brien lost count of how much pie was served — mostly in pieces selling for $3.14 each to commemorate Pi Day on March 14th — but said “at least 125 pies went out the door.”

And business is still good. Since Pi Day, the Mountlake Terrace store has done three to four times the daily volume of the Snohomish store, Brien said. That means 75 to 100 pies baked each day in Mountlake Terrace, compared to 20 to 30 in Snohomish.

That’s a lot of pies. While happy with the new store’s success, Brien said she’s still understaffed and has been relying on friends, relatives and Snohomish store employees to fill in while she builds her team.

“I love my team, absolutely adore my team,” she said, “but it’s hard to find those people. It takes time to find people that are willing to work hard and thoroughly and be excellent in everything they do.”

In the interim, Brien decided to close both stores for one day a week — Snohomish on Tuesdays and Mountlake Terrace on Mondays — to catch up to the increase in business. Mountlake Terrace store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The store is located at 5602 232nd St. SW.

In addition to pies, which include apple, apple-berry crumb, pecan, chocolate pecan, cherry and cream pies, Snohomish Pie Co. offers cinnamon rolls, baked cookies, as well as a lunch menu until 4 p.m. of sandwiches, soups and salads. Everything is homemade but the soup.

And everything in the Mountlake Terrace shop is new except for the stained concrete floor, she said, including the electricity and plumbing. The former site of a dry cleaner, the building was gutted and rebuilt according to Brien’s specifications, so she was able to put her baker’s mark on the place.

Of course, in Brien’s shop, “new” is a relative term. She hired Seattle-based firm Marian Built — which repurposes old materials for new uses — to fashion the rolling-pin chandelier dangling from the high ceiling. Old barns supplied the wood for the Marian Built tables, as well as the boards — still retaining their faded red paint — on the front side of the food counter. Other wood came from old high-school bleachers and the light fixtures above the food counter are collections of old wire whisks.

Brien, 32, has owned the Snohomish Pie Co. — in business about 19 years — since Aug. 1, 2009. That day happened to be Brien and husband Ryan’s six-year wedding anniversary. Also momentous, their first son, Lincoln, was born just one week earlier. So it was a very busy time in her life, but Brien figured she was up to the challenge.

Brien has faced tougher challenges. She was just 16 and her brother, Jeff, 29, when their parents, Joe and Linda Knight, 54 and 52, were killed with 86 others on Jan. 31, 2000, when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 plunged into the Pacific Ocean 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Founders and co-pastors of The Rock Church, a nondenominational Christian church in Monroe that started in their living room, the Knights had been returning from a mercy mission to Mexico, helping to feed and clothe poor families living around Puerto Vallarta’s dump.

She might have turned away from her faith in the wake of such devastating news. But Brien did not. Something told her, she said, “If any time is the time to grab ahold of God, now is the time.”

She is forever grateful that her brother and his wife, Melinda, stepped into the void and assumed parenting roles. Today The Rock Church figures largely in Brien’s life. It’s where her brother and his wife now co-pastor and where Brien met her husband.

Her husband’s been very supportive of Brien’s pie venture and helps care for their two children — Lincoln, now nearly 5, and Elliot, who turns 3 this month — when he’s not away on assignment as a freelance filmmaker.

Brien continues her parents’ legacy of giving, donating 10 percent of her profits to The Rock Church for charitable works. She gives to local school auctions and last year, donated nearly 1,000 pieces of pie to Oso rescue workers. It’s how she was raised and it’s her recipe for success.

“I figure that that’s why we’ve done so well,” she said, “and so, I’m not going to change. Just because you become successful doesn’t mean you should change what you did to become successful.”

It was that success that first drew the attention of Kirk Ishizaki, an owner of the West Plaza shopping center in Mountlake Terrace.

“We were looking for just a really great bakery,” Ishizaki said, and Snohomish Pie Company ranked high on King 5’s Best of Western Washington lists for Best Desserts and Best Bakery.

Brien had been thinking about opening a second store for some time, she said. She had never been to Mountlake Terrace and was contemplating a site in Kirkland. Then Ishizaki visited Brien’s Snohomish store and talked her into meeting for lunch at the Diamond Knot Brewery.

Afterward, Brien sat in her car in the parking lot and watched customers streaming in and out of Double D Meats.

“Double D Meats was the decision-maker for me,” she said.

The pie company is the perfect addition to the shopping center, said Kim Nygard, who’s worked at Double D Meats for 30 years and just bought the 60-year-old company from her retired father.

“We absolutely love them,” Nygard said. “Are you kidding? We’re like a match made in heaven.”

Brien’s success is about more than just pie, said family friend Vicki Lockman, who first taught Brien how to bake an apple pie back when Brien was 10.

“You can like pie,” Lockman said, “but she is obviously a really good businesswoman as well.”

Brien said she never had any formal training, but she reads a lot. And she dreams. She dreams of someday turning the Snohomish Pie Company into a nonprofit, she said, adding, “It’s my heart.”

And she dreams of continuing to grow.

“I had always dreamt of a second location,” Brien said. “And now I dream of a third.”

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