Correction to This Article
This Food article about new independent bakeries incorrectly said that Amernick Bakery in Cleveland Park closed in 2000. It closed in 2004.

They've Got the Goods

Three of Best Pie's offerings, clockwise from top left: peach and blueberry pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie.
Three of Best Pie's offerings, clockwise from top left: peach and blueberry pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By Walter Nicholls
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Last month, on an out-of-the-way road in rapidly developing Bowie, Sherman and Patricia McCoy opened a tiny shop with the hope that people will love their homey pies as much as the couple like making them.

Despite the obscure location, it didn't take long for word -- or perhaps the aroma -- of Best Pie to spread. In any community, a new bakery sparks the kind of interest that a new dry cleaner or bank branch can't, for obvious reasons.

"The pies, they are fantastic," says local attorney Josh Pierre, the first customer through the door on a recent morning. He knew exactly what he wanted: a mixed-berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. "They have that homemade taste, just like you got it out of Grandma's kitchen."

As they slice apples and roll out dough, the McCoys are also part of an apparent mini-boom of independent bakeries opening around Washington after a decade of closings and chain expansions.

In downtown Falls Church, a woman who specializes in Austrian nut tortes recently anchored her wholesale business with a retail storefront. And in the weeks ahead, a former restaurant pastry chef will open a European-style shop in Vienna, and a former art director will start selling his rustic breads, coffee cakes, pies and more in The Plains. Like the hundreds of small ethnic-restaurant owners in the Washington suburbs, they looked to areas where they live, where rents are lower than in the city and parking is easier.

Attending the new ovens are bakers who believe they have something to offer that the chains and supermarkets can't deliver: passion.

"Supermarkets have taken the excitement out of fruit pies," says Sherman McCoy, 61, a former Howard University Hospital administrator. "There is no one standing up peeling peaches, no place you can get a fresh fruit pie." Beyond the shop's austere salesroom, in the well-equipped kitchen, his wife was peeling away on a recent weekday morning, her hands submerged in a 10-gallon pot filled with once-fuzzy fruit.

"People get excited to have a pie just out of the oven," says Patricia McCoy, 53. "They can look through the window and watch us make the pies. There's the aroma, the anticipation for what we sell."

She steps quickly when an oven buzzer sounds, and out come beautifully browned 10-inch apple and mixed-berry pies that sell for $23.95 each. Then it's back to peeling.

The McCoys won't say how many pies they make or sell each day, allowing only that, thus far, "things are good." Their start-up costs, which included the conversion of a former used-book store and purchase of a truckload of new stainless-steel equipment, were $200,000.

In addition to having no retail or commercial baking experience, they have no desire to sell their pies wholesale or to restaurants -- or even to sell anything else. The McCoys plan to stay small.

That's all well and good, but if you ask longtime pastry chef Ann Amernick, such passion and drive won't guarantee success. "It's a hard way to make money," says Amernick, co-owner of Palena restaurant in Cleveland Park. "I'd like to see how long they'll hold."


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