Jen Biddle was pursuing a graduate degree in social work when she stumbled, accidentally, into the pie business
“I was working part-time at Waterloo Records,” she remembers, “and Lyle Lovett came in to sign some autographs. I’m a big fan, so I made him a pecan pie—my aunt’s recipe—but I changed it up a little. He seemed really excited about it.”
A few weeks later, Willie Nelson came in, and Jen’s coworkers suggested she make a pie for him, too. After that, more pies were made for employees and customers, and before long a new enterprise, Texas Pie Kitchen, was cooling on the windowsill.
Clearly, these weren’t just any pies. Or just any pie maker.
Flash forward a handful of years. Jen had become a successful, full-time social worker at the Brackenridge Hospital ER. Yet the desire remained strong to do even more for our city’s poor and disadvantaged. “I needed to do something with community development,” she explains. The opportunity arose in the area around North Lamar and Rundberg Drive, home to the highest crime rate in Austin. Urban gentrification was pushing poverty to the north and south, Jen says, and job skills were desperately needed.
Jen and her husband moved into the neighborhood and formed the Zephaniah Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit concentrating on job training and mentoring. In 2006, she sold the Texas Pie Kitchen to Zephaniah for one dollar, determined to use the business to teach the marketable art of pie making. Pie sales, cash donations and grant money would keep the nonprofit going.
This year, her first job trainee came on as a part-time baker, working with Jen and a corps of volunteers to crank out 30 different kinds of pie in two sizes, as well as custom orders.
In the future, she says she hopes to raise enough money to provide paid job-training and health benefits for a roomful of bakers, but, for now, she simply hopes people will continue to buy Texas Pie Kitchen products and spread the word.
So attention, Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson! Remember Jen, the Waterloo Records employee who gave you a homemade pie all those years ago? Well, she’s using pies just like it to save the world. We thought you’d want to know.
Find Texas Pie Kitchen pies at the Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse, Café Caffeine and Star Seeds Café. texaspiekitchen.com.