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The Pie Lady tastes sweet success
To place an order with the Pie Lady, call 513-2044.
It's 4 a.m. Saturday and the Pie Lady of Kirkwood is slicing, decorating and packaging the myriad of her delectable wares to be sold at the Farmers' Market in Chico.
The culinary success of the Pie Lady, also known as Robin Rowe and her "Sweet Cottage," has earned her the title of Best of Chico not once, but twice in the Farmers' Market category, first in 2011 and again in 2012.
Rowe is the 42-year-old mother of 10-year-old Kaiden and Allie, 13, and the wife of 44-year-old Alvin. Together, the family lives in the former Kirkwood post office on I Street. "This house was built in the 1870s and we love it here," said Rowe as she home-schools her children in the home's kitchen on a Thursday morning. "But I don't do my baking here. That I do out of a commercial kitchen."
And bake she does - pies, cookies, jams, jellies, quiches and more.
Her following of regular buyers is as long as her list of goodies.
"I have people who come every Saturday to buy pies and other baked goods from me," Rowe said. "I even have what you might call 'groupies' who meet and hang out at my Sweet Cottage booth every week. It has evolved into something much more than I ever expected."
But Rowe's winning venture didn't come easily. In fact, it came to life as the family began facing real estate failure during the recent economic downfall.
"For years, Alvin and I would purchase homes, flip them and either sell them or rent them," Rowe explained. "But as the economy failed so did our real estate business."
A woman of a strong spiritual nature, the idea of the Sweet Cottage began to form about eight years ago as Rowe was meditating and contemplating life.
"The Sweet Cottage started as more of a hobby than a business. As I was meditating I keep envisioning pies and baking. I followed that vision, or you could call it providence, and started baking apple and berry pies and selling them at the Saturday's Farmers' Market which is open all year, and the seasonal Thursday Night Farmers' Market in Chico," she said.
As the real estate business crumbled, the baking business took of.
"In one season I went from baking and selling just two kinds of pie to six varieties. The next year I added more pies, cookies and exotic teas," Rowe stated. "Eight years later my net income is matching where we were when we started losing our houses."
Rowe sees the entire process as not of her making but as "part of a greater plan."
"It might have come about as me looking out for my family, but it was much more than that," she said.
The Pie Lady learned her baking art from her mother.
"I have always loved baking," she says. "My mom taught me how to bake from the time I was just a little girl. She would do her cooking on an old woodstove in our family's antique shop in Butte Creek."
Rowe remembers to a time back when she was 7-years-old at school and arguing with her teacher who was showing the students how to make a pie for the holidays.
"She was using a fork to crimp the edge of the pie and I kept telling her she was doing it all wrong, that you pinch the crust between your fingers to make a pretty edge," Rowe laughs.
Today Rowe uses her baking business to teach her own children.
"Baking utilizes a lot of math and selling the food also uses math. When I have my children help me they are learning to use these skills in a practical, real life setting," she states.
As much as she can, the Pie Lady uses organic ingredients in her baking. Her organic sugar and flour she gets from San Francisco and she purchases her as much of her fruit as she can from organic growers.
"My fresh fruit pies are only seasonal because the fruit has to be fresh off the vine or tree. Otherwise I purchase my fruit from Oregon," she said.
Her Sweet Cottage list of pies and quiche states, "Lovingly handmade from Scratch."
"It is a lot of hard work," Rowe explained. "This hasn't come easy. I make jams and jellies on Wednesday, cookies, quiches and decadent pies on Thursdays and fruit pies on Friday. Then it is up at before the rooster crows on Saturday mornings to get everything ready and be at the farmers' market to get everything set up and we are there until there are no crumbs left. It is long, hard work."
She even hand decorates the boxes in which she packages her baked goods.
During the summer months Rowe also sells a variety of ice cold lemonades along with her exotic teas that have become "extremely popular."
She also takes orders for her baked goods.
"I have a lot of people make orders for weddings, parties and the holidays," Rowe said.
Her most popular pie continues to be one of her first, the marionberry, but her Old Fashioned Chocolate Fudge is also a decadent first choice.
From wild boysenberry to chocolate pecan, dutch apple and rum raisan apple, it is hard to choose just one from Rowe's list of 17 varieties. And that doesn't even take in her cookies and quiches.
The Pie Lady said she is still meditating on what is in store for her family's future.
"You have to live in the here and now and be still enough to listen to that voice inside of you. That is what I am trying to do," she states. "Lately I have thought about opening a baked goods store in Chico. I might do that eventually, but for now I am enjoying what is right in front of me."
That includes her children and husband, baking for her Sweet Cottage booth-on-wheels, and working on their 142-year-old home.
To make an order from the Pie Lady, call 513-2044.