One evening in 2018, Rahul Dharod and Bill Holdenstern met after work to discuss menu ideas. Dharod runs a catering business, Bombay Belly, focusing on Indian food, working with the meal delivery platform, Territory Foods, where Holdenstern works. The two became friends, and that night over beers, they came up with a concept that would transition their relationship to business partners.
“We were like, I wish there was a chicken pot pie, but a smaller version with Indian flavors in it,” said Dharod. The friends felt the idea had potential, especially if they could come up with the right combination of flaky pastry crust and flavor-rich fillings. And that’s how Emeryville-based East Bay Pie Company came into existence.
For the next year and a half, Dharod and Holdenstern experimented with creating pot pies that were 2 inches high and 3 inches wide, ones you could eat with your hands. The friends make their own pie dough with water, flour, salt and lots of butter, something that health-conscious eaters might want to note.
“We have a 90 to 100 ratio of butter to flour, so it’s a buttery, crusty pie,” Dharod said.
East Bay Pie Co. mostly focuses on savory pot pies. Dharod’s Indian heritage and cooking experience influenced the creation of the company’s Indian-inflected pies — chicken tikka masala, paneer tikka masala and spiced potato — but Holdenstern’s background and passion for food also holds sway.
The mushroom cheddar knish and maple chocolate pecan recipes, for instance, are a nod to Holdenstern’s childhood growing up in a multi-cultural home. “My dad’s Jewish and my mom is half Japanese,” the third-generation San Franciscan said. “He cooked a lot of things like kasha and brisket. She cooked Americanized food with some Japanese or Hawaiian influence.” And it was when Holdenstern studied sports management in Boston that he first fell in love with Caribbean food. Bold Jamaican flavors inspire East Bay Pie Co.’s curried beef pie.
Not finding full-time work in sports management after graduating, Holdenstern worked for a few restaurants before transitioning into operations, inventory and culinary management for personalized meal delivery platforms. He developed a hands-on relationship with vendors, visiting their kitchens to discuss new menu ideas. One of those vendors was Dharod.
“We interacted a lot over food and drinks,” said Holdenstern. “Rahul had a good catering company you could rely on. The different startups I worked for, I always contacted Rahul to see if he was interested in being a vendor.”
Dharod grew up in Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city that hosts a bounty of international cuisine and food from all regions of India. He arrived in the Bay Area in 2008 for his master’s degree in computer science. But his heart tugged him in a different direction.
“Before going into tech, I actually wanted to pursue hotel management, [but] that wasn’t a degree most Indian parents approve of,” confessed Dharod.
His entrepreneurial drive sparked him to start a part-time catering business to showcase home-cooked Indian food, dishes beyond the common naan and curry. In 2016, he quit his job and dove straight into the food world, offering his food through pop-ups and online culinary platforms, such as Josephine, Eatwith and Territory Foods.
Holdenstern and Dharod launched East Bay Pie Co. in late summer 2020, selling their products directly to customers online. The pies are made fresh then frozen for delivery. The two spent weekends dropping off orders throughout the Bay Area.
Eventually, East Bay Pie Co. started selling its frozen pies through online grocery services, Good Eggs and Feastin. As only customers in certain zip codes can order their pies, Holdenstern and Dharod are currently focused on getting East Bay Pie Co. into more grocery store locations to reach more customers. Alameda and Castro Valley Natural Grocery, both Berkeley Bowls and Star Grocery sell East Bay Pie Co., and the company is in the process of getting into Woodlands Markets in San Francisco and several other grocery outlets. The pies range in price from $6 to $7 each. East Bay Pie Co. has also brought back direct ordering through its website, where Bay Area customers can purchase frozen variety packs in bigger quantities — $45 for six, $55 for eight and $75 for 12 pies — to be directly delivered to their door.
Holdenstern and Dharod also regularly hold pop-ups at local breweries offering hot, prepared pot pies with sides. Their next pop-up is at Novel Brewing in Oakland on June 5, where they’ll offer pot pies with cucumber salad.
Both partners continue to work their other jobs in parallel with East Bay Pie Co. “We have been bootstrapping this thing from the beginning. Our love for this new product propelled this forward with the kind of part-time hours that both of us were putting in,” shared Holdenstern. “A lot of weekends and nights with a little bit of help here and there.”
Looking to the future, the partners will be adding automation and more staff to help with preparation. Pressing pies is labor-intensive and accounts for 60% of their time. They worked with a manufacturer to engineer a machine that presses four pies at a time. They’ve earmarked July to start shipping pies directly to customers throughout California. Adding employees will allow time to continue to develop new pie flavors to bring to market. They are working out of two commissary kitchens in Emeryville and Berkeley. But Dahrod and Holdenstern have their sights set on a dedicated retail location with their own kitchen in the East Bay by the end of the year.
“We will continue doing pop-ups until we get our own storefront. We definitely want to keep close ties with the customer because that drives us to be more creative. Direct feedback from people that are passionate about your food — whether they don’t like it or whether they love it, it is great to have that connection,” affirmed Holdenstern. “We both had this itch to create this new product that we could use to connect our worlds with other people.”
Find East Bay Pie Co. pies online at its website, on Feastin and Good Eggs and at local stores, including Berkeley Bowl, Star Grocery, Alameda Natural Grocery and Castro Valley Natural Grocery. East Bay Pie Co.’s next pop-up is on June 5, 1-7 p.m., at Novel Brewing, 6510 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. Follow East Bay Pie Co. on Instagram for future pop-up dates and new retail locations.