Less than a week before the primary, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Del. Alfonso Lopez, and Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn paid a visit to Acme Pie Company on Columbia Pike.
All three Democrats are running for office in the upcoming primary, set for Tuesday, June 8 — with early voting happening now. (Filler-Corn is unopposed in the primary.)
Around slices of blueberry and lemon curd pie, joined by Acme’s owner Sol Schott, they discussed small businesses, economic recovery, and their love of pie.
“The best pie in America,” Lopez said about Acme’s offerings. A few moments later, McAuliffe bought a whole pie.
“I got five kids,” the McLean resident and former governor said as his reasoning.
The campaign stop was intended to highlight the plight and hoped-for recovery for Virginia’s small businesses.
“Almost 41% of Black and Brown [owned] businesses have closed. How do you rebuild? How do you bring small businesses back?,” McAuliffe asked. “We do microloans, access to capital, and working on the regulatory structure.”
While Acme Pie has found ways to survive over the last year, it’s been rough going with the shop losing a large slice of its wholesale business.
The business did get a Paycheck Protection Program loan and Schott said that one of the most frustrating aspects was dealing with paperwork and navigating the legalese.
“I would like to see some more hands-on help with paperwork,” Schott told ARLnow. “I did get help from Alfonso personally on that.”
Lopez, who is facing an intra-party challenger in his run for re-election in the 49th District, agrees that the paperwork and amount of work that small business owners need do to gain access to loans and capital can be a barrier.
“What we need to be doing is dealing with procurement reform… and changing the definition of what a small business is,” Lopez said in an interview with ARLnow. “There’s so much more we could do to help these folks who are literally putting everything into their dream of a small business and be able to take care of their family.”
McAuliffe, who is seen as the front-runner for the competitive Democratic gubernatorial nomination, told ARLnow in an interview that the Commonwealth needs to be directly involved in providing access to capital to small businesses.
“We as a state should stand up our own, basically, investment bank structure to help small businesses, to get them off their feet, and work with them,” he said. “The state being involved in micro-financing and other lending opportunities, I think is very important for us.”
The four spoke about other issues impacting residents in Arlington and across Virginia, including education and affordable housing.
“We’ve got to invest in education… You’ve got to have the best education system if you’re going to recruit businesses in the 21st century,” McAuliffe said. “Today, [Virginia] is 50 out of 50 states in average teacher pay. That’s disgraceful… so, raising pay above the national average.”
A pie shop owner says an ongoing county construction project has cost her tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
About six weeks ago, Heather Sheire arrived to work at Livin’ the Pie Life at 2166 N. Glebe Road to find bulldozers tearing up the pavement in front of the shop.
“That’s how much notice I got from the county that there was going to be a disruption,” owner Sheire tells ARLnow, who opened the shop in 2016. She is now seeking financial compensation from county.
The construction was due to the ongoing Lee Highway and Glebe Road intersection improvement project which isn’t set to be substantially completed until the fall.
“Our parking was getting blocked and, then, 21st Road [N.] was getting blocked and, then, the sidewalk was getting blocked,” Sheire says, frustration rising in her voice. “Then, I started to notice our sales were down.”
The shop relies on walk-ups, she says, with about 90% of sales coming from walk-in orders.
Sheire even bought one of those feather-like flags as a way to catch people’s eyes from the road, but it was removed by construction crews.
March 3 was a tipping point. Again, Sheire saw a construction truck parked across the entrance of the shop’s driveway. So, she finally reached out to the county.
“[They] were sympathetic, but I need more than sympathy and friendlessness,” Sheire says. “This was having a very substantial economic impact on my business.”
She tells ARLnow, after comparing numbers from years past, that she believes the business has lost “tens of thousands of dollars” as a result of this construction project.
“I have a historical record from [March] last year to this year… we went from being down 10% to 46%,” she says.
Eric Balliet, spokesperson for Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, confirms that Sheire did reach out.
“Once we were made aware of the pie shop owner’s concerns, the project team responded by making every effort possible to accommodate the business during streetscape construction along their store frontage,” he writes to ARLnow.
According to Balliet, this included scheduling construction mostly on Mondays and Tuesdays (when the shop is closed), upgrading bike racks, installing a curb along parking spaces to prevent vehicles from damaging the building, and relocating street signs to improve visibility of the storefront.
Also, as part of the project, the county has upgraded the pie shop’s front walkway to concrete and expanded access to the store’s parking spaces for those driving northbound along N. Glebe Road.
Sheire agrees, for the most part, that the county has either already done the things promised or she believes they will — except for improving access to parking.
“It is trickier to get into the parking now than before. They added a short wall along the sidewalk on Glebe that now must be navigated to get into and out of the parking from Glebe,” she says. “It’s become a maze, a puzzle to get in there.”
But even fixing all of that will not change the financial damage that has already occurred to her business.
“[We] deserve some kind of financial compensation because they were literally blocking access to our business,” Sheire says. “It’s wrong for the county to initiate a project like this without taking into account the economic impact it has on a small business.”
In March, she received her business license tax bill from the county, which set her off.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says. “I felt like Arlington County had not given me value for my business license.”
She contacted the Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava and other top local officials about waiving the tax, or offering some sort of compensation, but was told that could not be done.
Pi Day was a very busy day for Acme Pie on Columbia Pike.
“At the moment, we are trying to restock,” Sol Schott, owner of the seven-year-old pie company, said over the phone Monday morning. “I was expecting it to be somewhat busy, but not expecting it to be almost-Thanksgiving busy.”
Schott said he made 98 large pies, 70 small pies, and had a “whole heck of alot of slices” and nearly sold out of all of it.
Sales, he says, “were in the same ballpark” as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — aka the Super Bowl of pie sales — and definitely better than Pi Day last year.
“I think everybody was so sick and tired of being cooped up,” Schott says.
The most popular pie was a special one he made for the weekend, an English Banoffee pie.
“We use a graham cracker crumb crust with like a… chewy soft caramel toffee on the bottom,” says Schott. “Then, slices of banana, fresh whipped cream with a little bit of espresso, and then chocolate shavings on top.”
All 76 Banoffee pies sold out. He plans on making more for St. Patrick’s Day.
While Acme Pie started as a wholesaler baking pies in a basement, he opened his retail store at 2803 Columbia Pike two years ago in the spring of 2019. The shop took over the space from Twisted Vines Bar and Bottleshop.
Even before that Acme had presence in the community, selling pies at farmers markets, hailed for making popular vegan versions and helping other struggling local businesses.
This past July, Schott baked pies and hosted a fundraiser for his next-door neighbor Papillon Cycles, Arlington’s oldest bike shop.
He says the past year has also been “tricky” and “rough” for Acme Pie due to losing a large slice of his wholesale business.
“Wholesale is off huge. That’s pretty much the issue,” says Schott. “I went from selling [pies] to 70 restaurants to 10 during the pandemic,” due to many local restaurants cutting back or outright closing.
Nonetheless, Schott says Acme Pie is not going anywhere.
“I’m a baker,” he says. “That’s what I do… I don’t have any choice.”
He’s optimistic sales will rise and normalcy will return in the coming months as the vaccine rollout continues. For the moment, he’s wishing that every weekend could be like the past one.
“It was amazing,” Schott says. “But you can’t have Pi Day everyday.”
The Arlington County Fair is adding more events to its lineup this year, including a pie-eating contest and a butterfly exhibition.
“Children and adults alike will enjoy the wonder of being surrounded by nature’s most delicate, beautiful creatures,” fair organizers wrote on the event page.
The exhibition will be open every day of the fair:
- Wednesday, August 14, from 5-8 p.m.
- Thursday, August 15 from 5-8 p.m.
- Friday, August 16 from 2-8 p.m.
- Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
- Sunday, August 18 from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.
The county fair itself will be open from Aug. 14-18 and will feature carnival games, food trucks, and live music, in addition to goat yoga and a new beer garden. The fair’s full schedule has not yet been published on its website.
This year the fair will also host a pie-eating contest. On Saturday, Aug. 17 participants will chow down on blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry pie, and everyone will receive a “Arlington County Fair Pie Eating Championship” t-shirt.
Pre-registration for the event, which is free, is sold out. However, fair organizers noted on the event page that there will be space for some same-day signups. The contest begins at 1:30 p.m. and participants are asked to stop by at 1 p.m. to register and check in.
Contestants will compete based on their age category:
- Ages 2-4
- Ages 5-8
- Ages 9-12
- Ages 13-16
- Ages 17-109.5
The fair is free to attend but ticket prices for amusements range from $1 for a single ticket to $20 for 24 tickets.
Photos courtesy Dennis Dimick
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.
For the last few years, pie chef Sol Schott has relied on the kitchen space at Columbia Pike’s Twisted Vines Bar and Bottleshop to whip up his wares — now, his Acme Pie Company is taking over the storefront.
Schott told ARLnow that he signed a five-year lease this week for the space at 2803 Columbia Pike. It’ll be the first brick-and-mortar location for his baking business, after he spent years selling his pies wholesale and offering them up at local farmers markets.
“It’s really terrifying, but weird and exciting,” Schott said. “This just sort of fell into my lap.”
Schott said he’d been toying with the idea of opening a physical location for a while now, but he felt compelled to act as he faced a stark choice at the start of the new year: “I had to either move the kitchen or take over the lease.”
That’s because Twisted Vines owner Tony Wagner decided to shutter the wine bar at the end of last year, along with the nearby BrickHaus beer garden, to focus on his new Italian restaurant in Penrose Square. Schott had relied on Wagner’s oven for his pie-baking ever since he launched Acme back in 2013, and he suddenly found himself without a home when Wagner closed up shop.
Though he examined other potential locations, Schott said he ultimately decided to try and stay put in the Pike space (he lives in nearby Douglas Park, after all) and he was eventually able to strike a deal with its landlord.
Schott is now envisioning a “1920s or 1930s pie bar” for the store, befitting his business’s throwback name. He’s also planning a bit of an old-school schedule as well — Schott hopes to keep his wholesale business going, so he’ll be hard at work baking pies from about 5-10 a.m. each day.
If anyone stops by the store while he’s slaving away at the oven, he’ll run upstairs and sell them a freshly baked pie.
“I’ll have a baby monitor or something out front so they can talk to me,” Schott said. “People used to do that back in the day, they’d ring a bell or something… It’s unconventional, but it makes no sense for me to just be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.”
When the store is open (likely starting around 2 p.m. each day), Schott hopes to still serve whole pies and pies by the slice, with many of the same flavors he currently bakes up. Options include everything from sour cherry to Scottish apple.
With the new store, he also plans to offer some “fancy sodas” and other sweet treats as well.
“If you’ve got pie, you should probably have ice cream,” Schott said. “And if you have that, it’s pretty easy to make milkshakes.”
He expects to offer limited coffee options, buying his beans from Misha’s Coffeehouse in Old Town Alexandria. But he doesn’t think he’ll get more complex than just drip coffee or a french press.
“As long you don’t come in there and think you’re going to get a vanilla macchiato or whatever, you’ll be OK,” Schott said. “I don’t know anything about it, I can’t compete with those other coffee places.”
So long as all goes well, he plans to open the shop for hungry customers by April 1. Schott says he has some painting to do “to make the place not feel like a wine bar anymore,” but otherwise already has many of the permits he needs from the county.
And considering that Schott says he’s already heard from a bevy of friends and customers excited about his new venture, he expects it should draw a crowd right away.
“I want it to be a fun place, a place for the community,” Schott said. “But my idea is kind of off the wall.”
A new pie store is now open along Lee Highway.
In April, two Arlington moms, Wendy MacCallum and Heather Sheire, opened Livin’ The Pie Life on 2166 N. Glebe Road. “We are happy to be here, it’s our dream home,” said MacCallum.
Before opening up their store, MacCallum and Sheire sold pies at the Clarendon and Westover farmers markets. Sheire also has a food blog that she said has contributed to the growth of the business.
They sell both savory and sweet flavors; customers are able to choose from a variety of sizes and flavors, which rotate seasonally. Large sweet pies range from $24-36.
Some flavors include strawberry rhubarb, Wendy’s Key Lime Pie or their most popular flavor, apple. Livin’ The Pie Life makes certain that the ingredients they use to bake the pies of the highest quality, with fresh, locally-sourced fruit in season or top quality frozen fruit out of season. One of their biggest mottos is that “if it’s in the name it better be in the pie,” said Sheire.
In addition to pies, the store offers coffee from Virginia-based Red Rooster Coffee. Plus, there are t-shirts for sale.
For both MacCallum and Sheire, one of the most important things to them is the strong bond that they have with their customers.
“The most rewarding thing is that we’ve met really great people who have become consistent customers at the shop,” said Sheire. For die hard customers the store offers a Pie of the Month Club — $370 for a year’s worth of pies.
Aside from just dropping by the store, customers can order pies online for delivery or pickup.
The sign on the front door says it all: new pie store Livin’ the Pie Life expects to open “April-ish.”
Located at 2166 N. Glebe Road, near the intersection with Lee Highway, the store is the bricks-and-mortar manifestation of what has up until now been a business that sold its wares primarily at local farmers markets.
Owners Heather Sheire and Wendy MacCallum, two Arlington moms who founded the company in 2011, says they don’t have an opening date set yet — but they’re close.
The store just added a new espresso machine and will be serving Virginia-based Red Rooster Coffee. That’s of course in addition to cookies, cakes, pies (savory and sweet) and other pastries.
The pies will be served in regular and individual sizes, plus by the slice. There are also plans to serve ice cream later this year, once a suitable vendor is selected.
The store is awaiting a couple of county permits before opening. It includes a sizable kitchen, a counter service area and a seating area for customers.
Sheire and MacCallum will still be selling pies at the Westover Farmers Market, and on Saturday will begin serving the Courthouse Farmers Market for the first time. The company only offers whole pies at farmers markets.
Construction has started for a new pie store planned near the intersection of N. Glebe Road and Lee Highway.
Owners Heather Sheire and Wendy MacCallum hope to open the new store by the end of the year, Sheire said. It will be located at 2166 N. Glebe Road.
Once the store is open, customers will be able to watch the pies being made while getting to enjoy a slice of their favorite pie with friends on a new outdoor patio. The store, while still in a design phase, is planned to be a place for people to relax with friends, Sheire and MacCallum said.
“The whole shop is just going to smell delicious because we’ll be baking there and serving there,” Sheire said. “We want it to be a comfortable place where people can hang out.”
The two also want the shop to be convenient for their customers and plan to provide parking, allowing people to be able to run in and grab a take out pie.
Sheire and MacCallum currently sell pies at the Clarendon and Westover farmer’s market, and customers can also order pies online. The two also have a partnership with House of Steep at 3800 Lee Highway, where customers can pick up pre-ordered pies from 2-7 p.m. on Fridays. On Saturday, the two will also be doing a pie and tea pairing at House of Steep. For $7, people will be able to get a couple pieces of pie with teas that pair well.
The two decided to open a store after the business expanded past their current business model of delivering and selling at farmer’s markets.
“So we were like, let’s do it,” Sheire said. “Let’s do a store.”
At the new store, Sheire and MacCallum will bake classic pie recipes, including customer favorites Apple Pie, Apple Caramel Crumb Pie, S’mores Pie and Boozy Pecan Pie. The two bakers will also be able to bake more savory, cold and cream pies.
“People will be able to come in for something for breakfast, for something for lunch and for something for dinner,” Sheire said.
For the savory pies, the pair plans to include their Mac and Cheese pie, their Tomato pie and their Thanksgiving pie. While popular, these pies are harder to bake for the current setup of delivery or a farmer’s market sale, Sheire said. But having a store means the bakers can make the pies and sell them in the same place, ensuring the pies maintain their quality.
Sheire and MacCallum say quality is a key ingredient; they only use fresh materials and plan to have their own small organic garden at the store.
A pie like theirs cannot be found in a supermarket, Sheire said. Good pie is meant to be fresh and only last a couple of days. That’s why there aren’t many good national pie companies, she said.
“Because pie something done by hand and on a small scale,” Sheire said. The bakers try to make everything themselves, including making their own marshmallow for the S’mores Pie.
Until the store opens, customers can continue to order pies online or stop by Livin’ the Pie Life at the Clarendon and Westover farmers market. The pair is not able to attend the markets every week, but customers can sign up for their mailing list or follow them on Facebook to find out when Sheire and MacCallum will be at the markets and what pies they will have.
“We are living the pie life,” Sheire said.
Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
Two months ago, after eight years of baking for the five restaurants in Open City‘s restaurant groups, Schott quit and struck out on his own. He started Acme Pie Co. and began selling pies wholesale to local restaurants, as well as taking online orders from customers.
“I’d gotten away from the reason I wanted to be a pastry chef: making food that makes people smile,” Schott told ARLnow.com last week in Twisted Vines, where he rents the kitchen. “At restaurants, you worry about making the numbers, and I got burnt out.”
Before he started baking for high-end restaurants and cafés, in his first job after culinary school, Schott sold cheesecake and biscotti to small cafés and coffee carts around the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he used to live. He used that model to inform his business this time around.
Although he had restaurant industry connections and a reputation from the kitchens in which he worked, he said he tried not to lean on those too much.
“My business plan was to make the best pie I can make, charge enough to make a living,” he said. “I missed being directly involved with customers, and I just didn’t want to work for anybody else anymore.”
Schott arrives at his Columbia Pike workspace at 3:00 a.m. every day and starts baking immediately. The next seven or so hours are spent crafting his seasonal, locally sourced pie recipes. He’ll call his clients at about 11:00 a.m. and start making deliveries at about 1:00 p.m.
He currently offers five pies: baked coconut custard, pumpkin with candied ginger, vegan apple cranberry, and the two pictured here and sampled by ARLnow.com, sour cherry with streusel topping and pecan, maple and belgian chocolate.
The most obvious question to ask of Schott is “why only pies? Why not other desserts or pastries?”
“I wanted to get back to my roots,” he said. His great grandmother taught him to bake and both his grandmothers were bakers. “When you think of pie, I think of home and my childhood… you don’t just eat things with your mouth. It’s an emotional experience. As Americans, pie is our homey food.”
Schott sells to local restaurants like Java Shack (2507 N. Franklin Road), Luna Grill & Diner (4024 Campbell Ave.) and Copperwood Tavern, among other locations. Westover Market carries full pies, as does Stachowski’s in Georgetown. He also ships pies — at a two-pie minimum for each order — and can arrange spots to have customers pick up the pies locally.
There are a lot of places in Arlington that sell cupcakes, but up until now, it’s been tough to find someplace devoted to pie. That’s where Heather Sheire and Leah Haskvitz come in, with their business “Livin’ the Pie Life.”
They first began operating in October, and now have their own booth at the Wednesday Farmers Market in Clarendon.
The two, who have children attending the same school, met while working at a PTA bake sale a year and a half ago. After months of learning about regulations and starting a business in the area, they began testing their original recipes.
To keep in line with health codes, Sheire and Haskvitz use the kitchen at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. They bake on Fridays and invite neighbors over for pie tastings. They’ll make several versions of the same type of pie with just one thing changed to get input on what tastes best.
The women change their menu often based on what’s in season. In the fall, apple caramel pies were a big hit, and now berries are a summer favorite. They also use locally sourced ingredients, and no additives or preservatives.
“The whole idea is that we want people to feel good about pie,” Sheire said. “Pie is dessert. Pie is special. Pie is handmade. It should come from local sources.”
Not all of the offerings are sweet concoctions like the pecan pie and margarita pie. Customers have also been digging into savory pies like tomato basil or macaroni and cheese.
Haskvitz contends that the pies blow cupcakes out of the water.
“It’s got fruit, it’s seasonal,” Haskvitz. “I think it’s just got a healthier twist and it’s got a little more of that home, rustic feel.”
On Fridays, the duo deliver the freshly made pies to the homes of customers who ordered online. They arrive dressed up in 1950s garb to add to the business’ nostalgic, family vibe.
“It just makes it fun,” Sheire said. “We’re trying to have fun with this whole thing.”
Contributing to the nostalgia is the practice of giving a $1 credit to anyone who returns a pie tin from the larger pies ordered online. Those tins are then reused, as they often were in decades past. The tins for the smaller pies sold at the farmers market are recyclable, as is the rest of the packaging.
Although they’ve thrown around the idea of starting a food truck, they’re not interested in a brick and mortar location. Right now, they’d like to keep a focus on convenience.
“If we have a store, you have to come into the store. But we want to bring it to you,” Haskvitz said. “It takes care of an area that I don’t think is covered. There’s a lot of storefronts here, there aren’t that many where you have the convenience of ordering online and having it delivered to you.”
Although they’ve only been in business for a few months, the women have been accruing regular customers. Both say they’re proud of their products.
“Our first priority is that the pie should be fresh and delicious,” said Sheire. “Our goal is that you have the best pie you’ve ever had.”