When Nancy Goemans told friends of her plans to open a pie store, the reactions were always the same – "my mom used to make the best apple pie!" they'd say, or "my grandma made the best pastry!"
Food has a unique ability to evoke nostalgic feelings in people — a homemade pie more so than most.
- FOOD AND THE CITY | Cluck 'n' Cleaver chicken joint opens in Calgary
- FOOD AND THE CITY | Ten Foot Henry returns to Victoria Park
Goemans grew up in Guelph, Ont., with an Italian mother and British father. "My father was a chef, but they both love food," she told me on a recent visit to her new bakery.
"My mother made a great pie. She had a huge Italian garden and would preserve her peppers, and my Dad knew British food. My mom always said, 'shut your pie hole', so when she passed away and I decided to do this, it was an ode to her."
From marketing to pastry
Goemans's transformation to pie maven came after 30 years in marketing and food styling — she owned Montana Creative Communications in Toronto before moving to Calgary 21 years ago, spurred by a design nomination during the country music awards.
"My husband and I cleared the top of the Mescalero tower [on First Street S.W.] of all the birds so we could put an office up there," she said.
From that vantage point she did marketing and branding for Mescalero, Divino and dozens of other restaurants and businesses before her youngest child, now 10, was born with severe disabilities, and she decided to shut down and focus on smaller boutique projects.
With four children aged 10 to 17, three of whom are special needs, the youngest palliative, Goemans started contemplating a new direction. "One day, my 12 year old said, 'I want to bake pie when I grow up, will you bake pie with me?' And I thought, that sounds like a really good idea. So at 52 I switched careers."
Having done the branding for her friend Torin Shuster's projects Devour Catering and Holy Smoke BBQ, she called and asked him how he felt about pie, then kept her eye on a spot in a small strip mall behind the Shaganappi golf course in Spruce Cliff.
'Stress cannot exist in the existence of pie'
When the space opened up, Goemans, her kids and husband — a contractor — gutted and rebuilt the space using recycled materials from other projects, including shelving reclaimed from her old downtown office. They opened the day before Thanksgiving.
"Stress cannot exist in the existence of pie," it says on the front awning.
Inside, the displays are full of sweet and savoury pies — steak and mushroom, Aussie beef, tourtiere, potato galettes and Jamaican hand patties — all made with from-scratch butter pastry, flattened between sheets of parchment in a hand-made wood pastry press that saves their wrists from rolling and means the pastry is barely handled, helping maintain its tender, flaky texture.
Sweet pies are seasonal — in winter you'll find Key lime, lemon meringue, sour cherry, apple, chocolate cream and mango-peach baked into the custom-made biodegradable wood rings they use instead of the usual aluminum tins.
There are quiche and savoury galettes as deep as they are wide, and they can't keep their half moon-shaped hand pies in stock, especially the sour cherry. With substance and heft, they're heavy on the fillings but structurally sound, and perfect for eating out of hand.
All the baked goods are made by hand, from scratch.
"Every pie here has less than 10 ingredients, I can tell you exactly what's in all of them," Goemans says.
Vintage teacups and future plans
They bring all their sour cherries and saskatoons in from Forest Fringe Orchard in Saskatchewan and have plans to collaborate with the local community garden as soon as the first rhubarb crowns emerge from the ground. They also offer tea, poured into vintage china cups and saucers displayed on a shelf in the back.
"The seniors from the neighbourhood come in and say, 'would you like my teacups? I don't use them anymore.' And then the hipsters come in and say, 'whoah! You have vintage teacups!'"
Goemans, Shuster and their small crew started making wedding pies and tarts, and have plans for long table dinners, summer tea parties, small classes and special events, more Parisian-style tables out front, and bundles of fresh flowers as you come in the door. As they say, the pie's the limit.
The Pie Hole, 8 Spruce Centre, 403-452-3960, thepiehole.ca, @pieholeyyc