Eleanor Taylor started baking as a young child in her grandmother’s kitchen, and she just never stopped.
“I’ve been a baker my whole life. So, it was kind of a natural path to either work in a bakery or open my own,” Taylor says. “I moved away for a little while and got a different perspective and saw what Springfield needed – that’s where the pie thing came about because there’s not a lot of places to get pie around here.”
The result was Prairie Pie, a homemade pie business Taylor started around Thanksgiving 2016. That year, by word of mouth, she made 35 pies for friends and family from her mother’s kitchen. From there, her pie specialty became established as a business and grew for years, culminating with the opening of a downtown storefront in March.
Moving from wholesale and personal orders to include a storefront, Taylor hopes the business can expand product offerings including her unique pie flavors such as honey sea salt, Earl Grey tea and hibiscus lemon.
The story of Prairie Pie’s growth includes a lot of connections Taylor made growing up in the Rountree neighborhood. When she outgrew her mother’s kitchen, Taylor moved her operations to the kitchen at Ott’s Pasta, which had recently been purchased by two friends.
After a few months, another friend from the neighborhood – Vito Palmietto – reached out to offer her a larger kitchen space and more available time to use it at his downtown restaurant, Vito’s Kitchen.
“I wanted to take on a young entrepreneur to mentor, and she fit the bill,” Palmietto says. “She was industrious, she was pleasant, and she has a great product. It was a perfect fit.”
For a few years, Taylor sold made-to-order pies and developed wholesale partnerships with Cherry Picker Package and Fare and Homegrown Food, which closed in 2018.
It started with a holiday event at Homegrown Food, which led to regular orders for her mini pies. Through that relationship, she was able to connect with MaMa Jean’s Natural Market LLC. When Culture Counter opened in June 2020, owner Bryce Gott felt selling Prairie Pie products was an obvious fit because the two had a friendship.
When the weather is nice and customer traffic is higher Gott says he can sell at least 50 mini pies a week at his Culture Counter store. Taylor delivers orders of about 30 mini pies twice a week to the shop, give or take a few depending on the season.
“It kind of fell into my lap a little bit. It was definitely word of mouth. I really didn’t have to do anything,” Taylor says. “Just following the demand has really worked for me. There still is demand, and I’m not going to stop until the demand runs out.”
The right recipe
On March 11, Prairie Pie opened a downtown storefront on South Jefferson Avenue, in a familiar space for Taylor – the former site of Vito’s Kitchen. Palmietto closed the restaurant in June 2020.
“I wasn’t looking. I’m the happiest when I’m in the kitchen and no one is talking to me,” Taylor says. “But I knew to grow my business, it was the next step. I get calls every day asking ‘What pies do you have available today?’ and the answer was always ‘None.’”
But opening a storefront, where people can come in to get premade whole pies as well as pie by the slice, allows Taylor to meet that customer demand.
“Customers are last minute – they want to be able to get a pie,” Taylor says. “It was kind of the obvious thing that if this business is going to grow, you have to be more available to the customers. It’s been in the back of my mind for a year or so.”
When Palmietto started planning to close Vito’s Kitchen, Taylor decided to take the chance at his encouragement. Having the new space allows for a few expansions to the business with hopes for more.
Prairie Pie now offers cookies and a new savory option: pot pies. Starting out, the shop is only open for lunch – from 11 a.m. until around 4 p.m., or whenever product runs out – but Taylor hopes to add dinner hours.
Startup costs for the shop she co-owns with Druff’s restaurant co-owner Vance Hall, were roughly $20,000, Taylor says, including new kitchen equipment and renovation of the space. Introducing a storefront also means increased expenses – rent, utilities, employee wages and supplies – as well as the potential for product waste. Although the operation is new, Taylor says she feels confident the business will be able to cover its increased costs by continuing wholesale and personal orders on top of retail.
“The business has so many legs to stand on. We have a good base,” Taylor says, declining to disclose annual revenues. “Just the amount of people walking in because I’ve had the lights on, it’s showing me people have interest and that they’re going to be coming in.”
She says Prairie Pie sales have grown by about 30% each year.
“Every quarter is more than the last. Each year trends the same as far as the first quarter being the slowest,” Taylor says. “Nobody is eating pie the first three months of the year, because they’re probably dieting. Then, as the year goes, it gradually gets bigger and bigger until Christmas. Then, it’s as many pies as you can make.”
Taylor has some more business ingredients in the mix: adding unique ice cream pairings for slices of pie and selling frozen, uncooked pie crusts.
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