As a fellow baker and small business owner, my heart dropped last week when I read that Bike Basket Pies was going to ride off into the sunset at the end of this month. So many folks all over the city have come to know and love Natalie Galatzer’s hand-held sweet and savory seasonal creations, and the low-overhead business model inspired many newer businesses who were just starting out. It seemed from her weekly newsletter that Natalie was doing incredibly well, there were always new innovative flavors and fresh energy. So I couldn’t help but wonder, why? I wanted to hear from Natalie about what led her to make the big decision to put the business on hold, and what might be in the cards for the future.
1. Some folks may not familiar with your story: Why pie? Why did you decide to begin a business around pie?
When I was in college, I had this really slow last semester and I convinced a house full of guy friends that I should be their house cook. There were 5 of them, and they all ate for 4-5 people (growing boys and all), so I was struggling to make enough food in their tiny kitchen. One day I was going to make a chicken pot pie but was intimidated by the crust — my father had always made a home-made puff pastry crust for our pot pies growing up (my father was an amazing home cook — I swear I’m not biased). I told my friend that I was going to buy a pre-made pie crust and he gave me a kinda dirty look and said “of all things, I’m sure you can make a pie crust.” Soooo I pony’d up and made a pie crust. That’s the first crust I remember making, although I’m sure I made one or two early on with my dad. And my mom loved, loved, looooved pie.
As for the business, after 2 years of AmeriCorps, I was unemployed and looking for something to do with food, and I loved baking and baked pies at least once a week and muffins, cakes, and cupcakes every other day. When the Magic Curry Kart and the Creme Brulee Cart started, I got inspired and a friend pushed me to do something myself. So I borrowed his basketed bike and sold pies in the park. The next week I was delivering, and after that I was working on turning my hobby into my (at that point, 4th) job.
2. You’ve spoken on your own website’s FAQ about some of the reasons for leaving Bike Basket Pies: financial, loss of inspiration etc. Can you tell us a little about the decision-making process itself: did you wake up one morning and know it was over or had it been a long time coming
It definitely was a long time coming. This wasn’t a light decision. Most of the process was really trying to figure out that maybe this business just wasn’t for me — and that didn’t mean it, or I, failed. I gave myself a deadline — get what I want, in an emotional and inspirational level, out of the business, or move on. So after 6 months, I decided it was time to explore something new and find a new project.
3. Can you talk a little about the food community here in the Bay Area? Did you feel nourished and supported by the community, and did you feel it helped further your growth as a small business owner?
Yes — but I’m not sure I have very good specifics, or a very good answer for this. I mean, I started baking in the restaurant where I was waiting tables, essentially bartering to use the kitchen on the day they were closed and have a little shelf and fridge space. In return, I’d close up shop, run reports, simple stuff to help take some of the burden off the owner/chef. Louis (the owner/chef, my boss) was a huge help to me as I started and continued this business.
4. For me, when I’m in the kitchen baking and watching other bakers pump out cookies and cupcakes at a rate I could never dream of with pie, there are days I question the slow, slow craft of hand-rolling and crimping seasonal pies. Did you go through doubt in this sense or question what you were actually doing in terms of profitability/ability to keep up with demand?
I know exactly what you’re talking about. Yes, yes and yes. Why did I not start “bike basket cookies” or, as a customer recently suggested “bike basket brownies?” It rolls right off the tongue, and I could make just as many brownies in probably a quarter of the time that I spent on pies. But, pie is special, pie is so much better than a brownie. You can’t eat a brownie every day, maybe even every week. You can eat a different seasonal pie every week, and maybe even every day.
5. In thinking about the future, you allude to the fact you’re open for other projects: anything in the works that you can share? What, in your ideal world, would you be embarking on next? What are you inspired/excited by?
I’m excited and inspired by sustainable food and environmentalism. Before I was doing Bike Basket Pies, I was working on sustainable fisheries issues and I like working on sustainable food — but maybe not full time in the kitchen. Or, at least, not at 2 or 3 am. I’ve been putting some serious thought into what exactly it is about Bike Basket Pies that burned me out so badly, so I’m not ready to rule anything out except the lack of a full day off anywhere in the week and the insanely early morning hours.