Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Bennett’s pie maker gives us a piece of his mind

Marionberry pie from Bennett’s Bakery.
Marionberry pie from Bennett’s Bakery. Courtesy of Bennett’s Bakery

It’s crunch – and crust – time for Bennett’s Bakery, the Sacramento business that makes those tasty berry, apple and pumpkin pies sold at four East Sacramento markets.

Thanksgiving week is the year’s busiest for pie production at the Arden-Arcade wholesale bakery, which has moved locations and changed focus a few times since owner Mike Bennett took over the old La Belle Baguette, on Fair Oaks Boulevard and Madison Avenue, in 1993.

Bennett’s pies, which come in white boxes with peekaboo plastic and are available only at Compton’s Market, Corti Brothers, Save Mart on Folsom Boulevard and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (for about $12-$14) are legacy products for Bennett’s. The bakery now focuses on producing crust-and-custard bases for fruit tarts (the stores then add the fresh fruit themselves).

The custard-tart aspect of the business was growing so rapidly, Bennett said, that he needed to devote more space at Bennett’s Tesla Way headquarters, and more employee hours (Bennett’s counts 14 employees most of the year, and 20 at busier times, Bennett said) to it than other products.

He stopped making hamburger buns for local restaurants. But he kept up with the pies – the bakery, for most of the year, spends a few hours three days a week on them – partly for sentimental reasons.

Bennett, 54, a Jesuit High School alumnus who studied business at the University of Virginia’s Darden School, worked for a while as a management consultant in San Francisco before becoming an apprentice baker. He followed what he calls his “passion” back to Sacramento after he noticed a “for sale” ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for La Belle Baguette.

The Bee caught up with Bennett as he ramped up for pie week.

Q: How many pies will you sell this week?

A: We will sell about 1,200 pies in three days.

Q: How are you able to make 1,200 pies in this short period?

A: We can make a lot of the dough, and order up the fruit (beforehand). Then it is just three days straight of work.

Q: How do Christmas numbers compare with Thanksgiving’s?

A: Christmas is about two-thirds of that.

Q: Are there any pies you do just for the holiday season?

A: Pumpkin. We sell that from just before Halloween until the end of the year.

Q: Is it hard to make room for the pie operation, when you are so focused on the tarts?

A: The peak demand for the custom tart is spring and summer, and it drops off in the winter. That frees up our table space and refrigerator and inventory space to fill up with pie stuff.

Q: Why do you continue to sell the pies, when your business is focused elsewhere?

A: Friends and family didn’t want me to stop, and these stores have supported me. ... These stores are where I shop. I get to walk by, and watch people buy one, and it’s fun.

Mike Bennett

Owner of Bennett’s Bakery

Bennett took over the old La Belle Baguette, on Fair Oaks Boulevard and Madison Avenue, in 1993. The focus of his business has changed over the years, but pies remain part of the plan.