Pie Shack owners Karla and Jay Wakeley smile in front of the kitchen of their newly opened restaurant in Berlin. Joe Schulz photo
by Joe Schulz
In the summer of 2018, Karla Wakeley and her two sisters began selling pie by the slice at the Berlin Farmers & Artists Market in Nathan Strong Park.
This summer, however, Karla and her husband, Jay, have turned the small food stand into a restaurant, serving pie by the slice with breakfast and lunch.
The Pie Shack restaurant opened June 22 at 131 West Huron St. in Berlin, putting a new spin on popular comfort foods and a variety of pie flavors.
Karla’s inspiration for the initial pie stand came from the weekly band concerts and pie socials in Friesland, Wis.
After attending the event with her sister, Karla thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to bring something like that to Berlin?”
Each week, the sisters hauled a tent, tables and 10 pies out to the market in Nathan Strong Park. Initially, the Pie Shack sold pie by the slice, but people quickly began requesting entire pies.
“People loved [the slices] so much that they wanted a whole pie, and then it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Karla said.
The demand grew so quickly that after 10 weeks in the park, she had to bring at least 20 pies to satisfy customers’ cravings.
Last summer, Karla doubled her profits from her first summer selling pies in the park. After seeing continued success from selling pastries, Karla began to brainstorm logical next steps for her business.
“I’m two years away from retiring, and my husband didn’t really care for his job, so we thought, ‘Let’s open the Pie Shack [year-round],’” Karla said.
The couple didn’t think there would be enough demand to sell pie exclusively, so it decided to offer breakfast and lunch options.
This spring, Jay and Karla purchased the building at 131 W. Huron St. and began renovations, converting an empty room into a colorful and vibrant dining area.
“It’s an old building with a lot of character,” Jay said. “We just gave it a facelift to make it look more appealing.”
The couple renovated the kitchen, repainted the dining room, installed new equipment and salvaged working equipment left by the previous owners.
On the Pie Shack’s opening day, the eatery was flooded with customers. The community came out in droves to support the new business.
Fay and Jerry Marchant enjoy their wedding anniversary at the Pie Shack in late June. Joe Schulz photo
The first day, Jay and Karla tried to serve breakfast all day, which they noted ended up creating longer wait times for customers. The demand for slices of pie on their first day far exceeded their initial expectations.
As a result, the restaurant closed for a few days to restock on pies and rework its business strategy to create shorter wait times for customers. After its brief hiatus, it reopened with a cutoff time for breakfast food at 10:30 a.m.
“That made a huge difference in the kitchen because people were waiting 30 minutes for food that first day,” Jay said. “Now, we’ve cut 10 to 15 minutes off of that.”
The couple is learning as it goes. Neither of the two has prior experience running a restaurant as Jay previously worked on a farm and Karla is a school teacher.
“We’re going to stumble and we’re going to fall, but we’re going to get right back up and keep going because that’s who we are,” Jay said of the learning curve.
The couple divides the work evenly as Jay is mostly responsible for running the kitchen while Karla is the “pie master.”
The two of them put unique spins on family favorite dishes, including french toast stuffed with pie filling, a BLT with a twist, grilled cheese with tomato and basil, baked beans with extra bacon, a Reuben sandwich with homemade sauce and many others.
Jay and Karla want customers to feel “like they’re eating atgrandma’s house” when they dine at Pie Shack.
“We want to maintain that homecooked atmosphere,” Jay said, adding that everything, including the pies, is made from scratch.
The eatery is not selling entire pies, as it does not have the supply to meet customer demands.
To sell whole pies, Karla noted someone would have to continually make pies from the time they come into work until the restaurant closes for the day.
The couple plans to devote an employee exclusively to pie prep eventually, but now it is primarily focused on building a sustainable business.
Since opening, Karla noted the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. She routinely sells 15 pies in one day, on top of breakfast and lunch.
“I’m just so happy with the Berlin community and the surrounding areas,” she said. “The support, the patience and the feedback — positive or negative — has been so helpful, and we appreciate that so much.”
The Pie Shack is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, including the eatery’s full menu, visit www.thepieshackllc.com.