Teeny Pies: An Entrepreneurship Story

teenyTeeny Lamothe’s journey as an entrepreneur is both compelling and instructive. Today, Teeny is the inspiration and sole proprietor behind Teeny Pies, an exciting (and profitable) startup pie company in D.C. You can find Teeny and her array of delightful sweet and savory pies at various farmer’s markets (including the Petworth Market!) or via delivery from Hometown Harvest.

Stop by and say hello next time you see Teeny out at your local farmer’s market (location details below). Not only are the pies delicious (I’ve had the blueberry and pecan pies, and can attest), but Teeny’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her passion for the craft shines through, as does her wit and sense of humor.

Just a few years ago Teeny Lamothe’s life did not revolve around farmer’s markets and wholesale accounts. She was an aspiring actress working half-time as a nanny. She started baking for fun and as a way to relax. Soon, a Sunday night ritual emerged. Friends joined and ideas germinated and Teeny began to realize how much she enjoyed baking.

But how to change course? Pastry school was an option, but that would likely mean a significant block of time devoted to things other than just pie instruction. Teeny knew she wanted to bake pies, not sit in a classroom. Naturally, the next logical choice was what Teeny calls a ‘tour of pie’.

One doesn’t just go out and immediately start a company. There’s product testing, market research, competition analysis and financing. But, perhaps most of all, one must figure out whether it’s really what he or she wants to do. “You have to make it a bigger part of your life, before you do it,” Teeny remarked when reflecting on the early days. For Teeny, that meant not just product testing at home with friends but also perfecting the craft and learning the business from experts.

Teeny set out on a one year traveling apprenticeship (the ’tour of pie’). She crisscrossed the U.S., serving unpaid internships at some of the best patisseries. Teeny used two criteria when choosing an internship (aside from getting accepted, of course): 1) the mentor’s promise to sit down with her once a week to answer questions and give advice; and, 2) the mentor’s enthusiasm for teaching the craft.

The internships would prove a formative experience for Teeny and her future business. She got a crash course not just in pie making, but in how to run a business, learning about marketing, operations, distribution, and financing. She even launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise enough funds to cover the last six months of her apprenticeship. Moreover, she also gained a group of mentors that now form an invaluable informal advisory board.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Teeny also secured a book deal in the process. One day while checking her Teeny Pies email account (for the first time in months), Teeny came across a note from a publisher. They liked her story (the publisher had read Teeny’s blog, where she regularly chronicled her adventures), and thought she should write a cookbook. She did. You can purchase Teeny’s Tour of Pie online or in person at any one of her farmer’s market stands (along with a teeny pie, of course).

When Teeny came to D.C. to transform the fruits of her labor into a food startup, she first set up shop at Union Kitchen, a prominent local food incubator. Teeny credits Union Kitchen with giving her the space and infrastructure for growing her business in the early days, particularly in terms of helping sell her products when she had little name recognition. Having outgrown those confines, Teeny now shares a kitchen with a catering company and a tiny microbrewer.

Today, the business is profitable and Teeny is busy preparing for her first hire this fall. Teeny also hopes to open a storefront in the near future. But, before she does, she will likely turn to some of the mentors she met during her ‘Tour of Pie’ for advice. For now, she works hard churning out a few hundred pies per week, all by hand. When she hires an extra set of hands to help with that work, she will have more time for experimenting with new pie creations and pursuing the next phase of her entrepreneurial journey.

Check out the Teeny Pie website to order or for information on current pie selection and pick up locations.

Also you can find Teeny and her Pies and the following farmer’s market locations and times:

  • USDA Farmer’s Market (Wed – Fri, 10am – 4pm). 12th St. and Independence Ave. NW
  • Petworth Community Market (Sat, 9am – 1pm). Upshur and 9th St. NW (near Georgia Ave)
  • Mt. Pleasant Farmer’s Market (Sat, 9am – 1pm). The Plaza Under the Trees. (Teeny’s husband fills in here)

This post was written by guest blogger Wes Melville, who also writes for his own blog Thyme Fries.

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