Selling Pies in the Sky
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, the beloved Toronto bakery, has grown into a word-of-mouth sensation. Everyone wants a piece of their pie. It all started quite accidentally when owner Wanda Beaver was in college (in 1985), and a friend’s roommate – who was managing a restaurant – tasted one of her pies and led Wanda into the industry.
The artist turned baker honed her natural baking skills and created a one-of-a-kind bakery that has garnered attention from far and wide. We sat down and talked candidly with Wanda Beaver about her life and her pies.
Urbanette Magazine: What is the secret to your company’s success?
Wanda Beaver: My secret to success is that I do what I love to do – the passion you feel will always show in what you create. You will never be inclined to skimp on quality, service, or attention to detail.
Urbanette: Can you tell us a little bit about your sweets, what ingredients you use and how you manage to attract clientele in the age of low-fat foods and diets?
Wanda: We definitely use only high quality, natural and wholesome ingredients in our products. We do have some low-fat items but for the most part, our desserts do contain butter, cream, Swiss chocolate, nuts and all kinds of other fattening things. But I am of the mind that if you are going to eat sweets, they should be of the highest quality – why waste those calories on something that is merely sweet and fattening? If it is delicious you will be satisfied with less and you will not regret the calories.
If someone had told me 20 years ago that I would have a business with two locations, twenty employees, creating award winning desserts sold all over, I wouldn’t have believed it! I thought I was an artist, not a businesswoman.
Urbanette: How has your role changed in the company, could you explain what a typical day is like, and whether you are still involved with baking all the products?
Wanda: My job is not usually the same from day to day. I usually start my day at my bakery where I answer my e-mails, deal with suppliers, salespeople, bookkeepers, accountants, insurance brokers, bank managers, etc. When do I actually bake anything, you might ask? I do oversee the production on a daily basis, but the only baking I do these days is in new product development – which actually is quite often as I like to keep things interesting.
Whether it is a chocolate or compost business doesn’t matter, it had better be something you won’t get sick of, because you are going to see a lot of it! Becoming a successful and inspirational female should be the fortunate result of hard work, concern for quality and service, and most of all a passion for one’s work.
Urbanette: Finally, we have to know out of all the desserts you have created, what is your all-time favorite?
Wanda: My favorite pie is and always has been, since I first baked one when I was nine: sour cherry pie.
Urbanette: What is it like running Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, both the negatives and positives?
Wanda: There are lots of ups and downs in running Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, like being overdrawn at the bank because you have to pay the government / insurance / taxes / employees / suppliers (take your pick!) thousands of dollars every month. After eighteen years in business, I’ve been there a number of times and since I’m still here I guess I’ve got a handle on it.
With the rising cost of supplies, employees, repairs, insurance, taxes etc., it is a constant balancing act to try and keep your prices competitive and your costs down so that you can actually make a profit.
I guess I could probably find a few more things to whine about, but I’d rather talk about the upside of running my business, like winning awards for my desserts. Our apple, lemon meringue pie and Skor brownies were voted best in Toronto, just to mention a few. Our Black Bottom Chocolate Pecan Pie was voted best on the planet – you can’t top that! There’s nothing I love more than hearing customers and friends going on and on about how wonderful our products are. Also, doing wedding and celebration cakes and seeing how much it adds to the joy of the occasion is very fulfilling. Sometimes the good stuff cancels out the bad – sometimes it’s the other way around. I guess that’s life.
Urbanette: What inspires you to work through the difficulties, including the ones you just mentioned?
Wanda: I guess I never look back and keep going because I am doing something I really enjoy and feel passionate about. As well, the response from my customers is so positive that I am inspired to continue. It is true that at times it was difficult… when I first started my business I borrowed $15,000 at 26 percent interest. For the first three years I just paid interest on that money, no principal. I guess having to pay a loan back is incentive to continue, albeit a not-so-positive one!
Urbanette: As a successful female business owner how have you managed to fight the stereotypes about women in business and what advice do you have for those who want to start their own business, particularly women?
Wanda: Growing up I was always a bit of a tomboy. I always stood up for myself, even if it took giving some bully boy a punch in the nose. Even though my parents were in some ways very old fashioned – being from Eastern Europe, they always made me feel that there were no limitations on my aspirations just because I was a female.
I have to honestly say that I never felt intimidated by the fact that I was a woman in business. I guess a lot of it is in the attitude. Expect people to treat you with respect and they probably will. And even if they don’t, you either won’t notice or you won’t take it personally.
Whenever anyone asks me about what advice I have for anyone wanting to start a business I always tell them to find something that they love to do so much that they are willing to do it, or better still, have been doing it for free. When you start a business you will be breathing and eating your choice 24 hours a day.