Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Like Jenna in the movie Waitress, Michele Albano has turned her childhood passion for pie making into a thriving business.
This morning, this warm-hearted and determined woman spoke to an overflowing crowd at an organization I run called the Passion Project. (In a later posting, I'll tell you more about this group.) Her whole life she's been making pies, but she never thought seriously about pie making as a career until she saw a show on the Food Network about America's top 10 pie companies and said to herself, "I can do this!"
Dissatisfied with her real estate job, she eagerly began to research the business. Her plan was to start selling her pies--chocolate pecan bourbon, apple cranberry crumb, you name it--at farmers markets. But right away, she hit a snag. To sell food in Connecticut, one has to be licensed; and with no access to a commercial kitchen, she couldn't move forward.
Her solution? To go to Vermont, a state that has fewer health regulations than Connecticut, and begin her pie-making business there.
Working out of her tiny Killington ski condo, filling every available surface with pies, she baked five days a week, shuttling back and forth between Vermont and Connecticut, selling both pies and houses.
Then she started entering her pies in contests, winning first place in several. (My mom swears that Michele's blueberry-peach is the best pie she's ever tasted.)
Just before Christmas last year she opened Michele's Pies in Norwalk, CT. The line was out the door. She's already outgrowing the space.
Back in 2006, sitting at her grandmother's deathbed, Michele made a vow to herself that someday she would make her grandmother's pies famous. A few months ago, not long after her store opened, five of her pies won blue ribbons at the 2008 National Pie Championship.
As she was winding up her talk this morning, Michele told the group that she's been lucky every step of the way. I piped up and reminded her that she's had enormous obstacles to overcome. "It's not all luck," I said. "Most people would have given up when they couldn't get licensed, or collapsed from exhaustion as they juggled two careers."
Michele acknowledged that perhaps I was right. "I love what I do," she said with a big smile. "That's my secret."