In every sense, the store is the product of its founder Sol Schott — from the throwback ’30s aesthetic to some of the unorthodox choices in pies. But more than pastries, Schott has visions of Acme as a community gathering place in a classic Americana sense.
“One of the things I wanted to do with this place is I wanted to do exactly what I wanted to do,” said Schott. “I wanted it to be mine, from concept to everything, for good or bad. I wanted to see if I could do something exactly how I wanted to do it.”
Schott said visually, the store is based on Woolworth’s lunch counters from the 1930s. The wall art over the sound absorbers on the wall is inspired by Depression-era art from the Works Progress Administration. More often than not, when you walk in, the 1936 film serial Flash Gordon will be playing.
Acme Pie Company is only open from 3-9 p.m. during weekdays (except Monday, when it’s closed) and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends, but the baking process starts as early at 5 a.m. and can take much of the day.
The pie shop had previously operated inside Twisted Vines Bar and Bottleshop. But when that restaurant closed, Schott said he had to take a risk and move into retail. The Acme Pie Company’s retail shop opened in April.
“It’s been a big transition,” said Schott. “I’m not so much of a retail guy as I am a baker, that’s my history and passion. But it’s been going well. I enjoy talking to customers and dealing with people, that sort of thing. It’s been fun and it’s been successful.”
The pie shop is a change for Schott in more than one way. He admitted that a little over a decade ago, he was dubious about the prospect of making pies.
“I don’t want to say I hated making pie, but I didn’t know how to do it very well,” Schott said. “This was 16 years ago. We were buying the pies, and at some point [the retailer] decided she didn’t want to wholesale them anymore, so I realized… ‘damnit, I’m going to have to make pies.’ I didn’t have an appreciation for it, it was a pain in the neck. But I’d spent a lot of time making these pies, and learning to do it really well.”
Eventually, Schott gained an appreciation for the art and realized that he could carve out his own piece of the pie in a market crowded with other pastry chefs.
“I knew I could do that with pies, because most pastry chefs haven’t spent the time learning to make pies because they’re European trained, like myself, and that’s a different skill set,” Scott said. “I realized that I could wholesale sell them to places that wouldn’t buy anything else. They have bakers and cake guys and scones and cookies and muffins, but a real lack of quality pie.”
Now, Schott says they’re churning out around 20,000 pies a year, and Schott said every one of those pies tells a story. The blackberry pies — Schott’s favorite — are inspired by going blackberry picking and making the pies with his mother as a child. The cherry pies are made with materials from an Amish family in upstate New York.
Working out of a shop has allowed Schott to also experiment with more types of pie than he could when he was working wholesale.
One of the most unusual pies on offer is the sour orange pie. Schott is from northern Florida and said the pies come from the first oranges to the region, an old varietal that local legend says was brought over by Spaniards in the 1500s.
“The problem is the fruit is very sour,” said Schott. “They taste like sour-mix, like what you’d put into whiskey. What they do with the trunk is they graft on California orange limbs and other sweet types. But after the freezes came through, where there used to be big fields, they just had stumps because the grafts died off but the stumps were more hardy. The stumps grew their own limbs [and fruit]. They’re ugly, weird and lumpy, and sour, but when I was a kid, people would make these sour orange pies with these things. It’s a lot like a key lime pie.”
Schott says his take on the sour orange pies puts them in an Oreo crust so it tastes like a Creamsicle.
The restaurant also boasts a variety of vegan pies. Schott says he isn’t vegan, and it isn’t a feature of the restaurant he advertises because there’s still a bias against vegan products, but he argued it doesn’t change the quality of the pie at all.
Ultimately, Schott said his goal is for the pie joint to become something more community oriented. He hosted an event Monday night with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in support of Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th). On Tuesday nights, Schott says there’s poetry readings where his general preference is for throwback “pre-hippy” styles like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.
“I want to have art openings,” Schott said. “I want it to be a safe place for people. There was a lady there last night at the Tim Kaine thing, she said she didn’t like to go out to bars because people hit on her. But nobody hits on anybody at a pie place. I want to make a stand — not an angry stand, more of a kind stand.”