Mike Raskin never thought he’d be a chef, and therefore starting a pie company also didn’t figure into his future plans. But ask Raskin about his culinary memories, and the connection and appreciation for pie serves as a through line. It also offers hints as to how he came around to starting Edith’s Pie, a popular pop-up that he intends to turn into a brick-and-mortar restaurant once he has everything in place.
Named after Raskin’s mother, Berkeley’s Edie Hoffman, Edith’s Pie recently marked its first anniversary since its start at the beginning of the pandemic. Lately, he’s been selling about 100 pies per week, with fans picking up orders at places like The Alice Collective in downtown Oakland (Saturday mornings) and San Francisco’s Mission district (Friday afternoons). Soon, they’ll also be available at Albany’s Picnic Rotisserie.
Like most pop-ups, the current varieties of seasonal pies are listed on Instagram early in the week and are available for pre-order until they sell out online, leaving some half pies and slices available for walk-ups. Offerings usually range from one savory pie, like a vegetable quiche – “because I love the idea of pie for breakfast but you can’t always have pie for breakfast,” Raskin says – to two or three seasonal fruit pies and a custard pie in a salted graham cracker crust, like mango passion fruit meringue or strawberry key lime pie, with macerated strawberries. Recently, he also added frozen hand-pies, like spinach and goat cheese and spiced lamb and date.
It seems mandatory that a Bay Area pie company would source its fruit and vegetables from local farms, and Edith’s does (except for the more tropical fruit like bananas and mangos, of course). The farms include Rojas Family Farms in Exeter and Ortiz Farms in Watsonville, with greens for the quiche coming from Tomatero Farms, also in Watsonville.
In the pies I tried recently — a mixed stone fruit pie, an apricot blackberry pie and a caramel banana cream pie — the fruit fillings were densely packed and not overly sweetened. While each entire pie was exceptional, their crusts are worthy of special mention; some of the fruit pies are topped with large crystals of demerara sugar, providing a sparkly sheen, and the custard pies’ graham cracker crusts are saltier than most, which is by design.
“I try to make sure my food is balanced and doesn’t fall too hard on the sweet side,” said Raskin. “Because a graham cracker crust has honey and sugar in it, the salt really cuts it, plus a pudding filling is sweet, so the added salt both balances, as well as brings out all the flavors and gives a more exciting experience.”
As opposed to the common technique of using a pastry cutter or food processor to incorporate the butter into the flour, Raskin prefers a hand-pressed method, one that’s more similar to making puff pastry. “It’s more forgiving in some ways,” he said, “and it also gives a flakier texture. Like anything, it takes a lot of practice.”
(For those looking to improve their pie crust – a staple that can be difficult for even the best home cooks – he recommends a recipe by Smitten Kitchen author Deb Perelman.)
Raskin is a Berkeley native, who, as a middle schooler, participated in the Edible Schoolyard program created by Alice Waters. After attending U.C. Santa Cruz, where he studied economic inequality and labor justice, he briefly worked in union organizing before pursuing a career in restaurant work (which he’d done as a student).
“I realized I really enjoyed the culture, the camaraderie, and the creativity in restaurant kitchens,” he said. “I appreciated making something that’s tangible but also fleeting. While it very much exists in a moment and place, it then becomes part of someone’s good memories.” His career ranged since then from working as a butcher in Chicago at Publican Quality Meats to opening a restaurant in Baja California, Mexico.
But throughout his life, there always seemed to be pie.
During his time in Chicago, he learned that “getting pie in the Midwest was absolutely a thing,” he said. On Fridays he’d often go out of his way to get a special of three mini slices of pie on his way to work. But the food also made him think of home. “My mom makes really incredible pies,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to recreate her dough. We used to make pies when I was younger together, and she still makes some of the best I’ve had.”
In November 2019, back in the Bay Area, he and his partner made 20 pies to sell at Thanksgiving. From that week on, he began experimenting with pie, making one new recipe each week. And then, the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order happened. Luckily for him, his apartment had two ovens, which made pie prep for his first pop-up, in late April 2020, quite a bit more manageable. Since comfort food became such a hallmark of the pandemic, it was fortunate timing, and the business has regularly sold out since.
In general, he said, his pie philosophy isn’t much different than many of the Bay Area’s chefs when it comes to food as a whole: “We’re surrounded by incredible produce and I’ve always believed in ‘let the ingredients do the work,’ and pie is a great medium for that,” he said. “It’s a classic, simple food that when done right, is much more than the sum of its parts.”
Jeffrey Wright, a hospitality professional who has been helping small food businesses like June’s Pizza and Ono Bakehouse expand, met Raskin when he purchased a pie. Wright offered his services as a business consultant and has recently joined Edith’s as a partner, suggesting that the pie pop-up is more than a passing pandemic effort. “With some clients, they get to a point where they don’t need me anymore, but with Mike we kept talking and developed this great trust,” Wright said. “We’re on the same page about what we want to see in the hospitality world and the way we want to run a business.”
What they mean by that is they’d like to see the industry take better care of its workers in “not abusing people’s labor or their time, and prioritizing people-forward practices, like developing our eventual benefits to center mental health, for example,” said Raskin. “We want to be part of the change in how the hospitality industry treats its workers.”
Preorder Edith’s Pie online here. Order pickups are currently Friday afternoons at Grand Coffee Roasters at 2663 Mission St. in San Francisco, and Saturday mornings at The Alice Collective, 272 14th St. (near Harrison Street), Oakland