Less than a mile from the cramped West Village headquarters of popular Detroit bakery Sister Pie, there’s an old boarded-up grocery store.
In it, Sister Pie owner Lisa Ludwinski sees a multifaceted expansion that could help her growing business surmount obstacles and respond to community needs. It includes building a new café and small grocery store.
Ludwinski, a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award, plans to expand her pie-centric enterprise to an 8,000-square-foot second location at 8110 Mack Ave. The bakery would keep its storefront since 2015 at 8066 Kervcheval Ave., at the intersection with Parker Street on an east-side Detroit corner that has changed a lot in the past few years.
The idea is to drum up funding over the coming year and open in April 2020, Ludwinski told Crain’s.
Sister Pie’s vision is for an expansive space with several distinct elements. First, there’s a 35-seat breakfast-and-lunch café where customers order at a counter and sit down. It would be casual, with sandwiches, soup, salads, quiche and maybe other breakfast dishes with eggs.
“It’ll just be as though you went to Sister Pie and suddenly you could get a sandwich,” she said.
Ludwinski’s business has long since run out of room at its 950-square-foot Kercheval shop, where customers can buy baked goods with an eccentric touch, such as shortbread with lavender and grapefruit, buckwheat chocolate chip cookies and salted maple pie. It can seat around 15 people indoors and maybe 10 outdoors, she said.
In the new space, the head baker also wants to build out a grocery area with packaged salads and sandwiches; basic goods it is already buying from vendors, such as potatoes, milk, butter and eggs; and maybe a couple of heat-at-home pot pies.
“Not only could someone coming to a class use some of those items to make food out of the cookbook or whatever,” Ludwinski said, referencing the recipe collection she released in October titled Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-hearted Bakery in Detroit. “But people who live around the corner could get (milk or butter).
“Hopefully that would allow us to be even more sustainable. … We could start making things like cereals, or we can use even more of our ingredients to push into the grocery section of our store. We can make use of everything we have here in the bakery even more, because we’ll have different paths for us to grow. Kind of an effort to use all of our resources to our potential.”
The new location would also house two classrooms so Sister Pie could expand its cooking classes, which are generally more profitable than baked goods sales and could help it offset costs as Ludwinski considers ways to keep products affordable. The waiting list for a spring class series is at least 100 people long, she said. Classes listed on Sister Pie’s website cost $80.
Ludwinski plans to offer least 24 classes a month, up from the current three to four. They could include anything from multiday workshops and custom events to classes for kids and older residents, and free community classes.
The fourth component of the expansion plan is offices for Sister Pie’s administrative staff.
Sister Pie has not yet signed a lease for the Mack Avenue building, but has a letter of intent with the owner. The owner, through Ludwinski, declined to be named or interviewed. Mack 1920 LLC, the owning entity, purchased the building in 2014 for $22,200 from the Wayne County treasurer, according to city records. Mack 1920 is registered with the state to Detroit-based Counsel Matters PLLC.
Baking would be split between the two locations, Ludwinski said. Production had already been ramping up to meet demand, she previously told Crain’s, and the company is working toward making wholesale accounts with “a couple grocery stores.”
Sister Pie sells products wholesale to The Farmer’s Hand market and Brooklyn Street Local in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, according to its website. It also sells pie and promotional gear online.
Financing and feedback
Ludwinski estimates the company will need $400,000-$500,000 in build-out, equipment and other costs for what Ludwinski is calling “Sister Pie on Mack” (it doesn’t have a formal name yet).
She has started thinking about opportunities for financing assistance, including applying for a design award through Detroit’s Motor City Match program. Sister Pie will also consider pitch competitions, other grant programs, nontraditional loans or a revenue-sharing strategy where individuals invest capital and get repaid as revenue comes in, but aren’t considered part owners of the company.
Ludwinski projects Sister Pie would pitch in somewhere around $15,000-$20,000 of its own capital.
The bakery recorded sales of nearly $1 million in 2018, approximately a 20 percent increase from 2017.
Before settling on the Mack café-and-grocery plan, Sister Pie solicited feedback during meetings with community members at the café and laundromat The Commons.
People wanted “more savory food, more classes and potentially some sort of grocery element,” Ludwinski said, as well as another place to get a healthy, affordable breakfast or lunch. And many made it clear that “Sister Pie would feel really different” if its home base on Kercheval disappeared and it moved all operations to Mack.
The decision to expand comes after Sister Pie considered several options to move forward, including possibly moving out of its original location.
The move would bring some grocery essentials to an area that lost a small-scale grocer in 2016 when Parker Street Market closed its shop across the street from Sister Pie. A more substantial grocery store, Indian Village Marketplace, is about a half-mile southeast of Sister Pie and more than a mile from its proposed expansion location. There are a few nearby restaurants, including Detroit Vegan Soul, Craft Work, Marrow and the 24-hour Grandy’s Coney Island.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for her and that neighborhood,” said Gordon Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Realty Group, which sits at the same intersection as Sister Pie.
If the new Sister Pie development materializes, the area along Mack Avenue north of West Village will “actually get some service where they can actually have something that’s walkable,” Hawkins added. “And with her being there and The Commons being there, I think that’s a great spark there for that neighborhood for developers and businessfolk and the like to come and, you know, basically be a part of it, just like what happened where we are on Kercheval.”