Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

february 2013

A piece of pie

Daniel Swenson-Klatt

My daughter took on a challenge during her recent time home between her final semesters at college.  She offered to make me a lemon meringue birthday pie just like my mother used to make.  It was what I always asked for when I was young. No plain old chocolate birthday cake for me – I wanted a pie – and lemon meringue was my favorite.

My mother has been dead for three years now, and I can’t actually remember the last time I had pie for my birthday, but my daughter took on the challenge, scoured her recipe books and put together a pie worthy of childhood memories.

I bring up this pie because I love to think about its architecture.  First, a pastry shell, light, but solid enough to be the framework for all that will be included. Next, a filling – dense and solid – that creates the pie.  This was the part I really loved watching (and usually getting to help during the constant stirring of the custard) as it came together.  Finally, the topping – a wild concoction of egg whites and sugar – so light and fragile but when finished, another solid layer of its own.

Now, what made me think of this?


You see, I had recently been asked to share why I went to the effort to run my business in a way that included efforts to reduce waste and energy.  And it made me think of making pies, and not just because I run a bakery.  Let me share how this works.

When I put together my initial plan for my business, I had a desire to deal with my waste differently than most restaurants.  I knew that restaurants were notorious for throwing out food and other waste. I was a bit awestruck by the size of the dumpster behind the shop when I bought it – but then remembered it to be much like the one behind the restaurant I worked in while a high school student.  We had to throw away a lot.   My desire to do things differently was the framework, the shell.

The actual filling would end up being the Organics Composting program run by Hennepin County to reduce the waste headed for landfills. The program takes on a life of its own at the shop as we sort, collect, re-sort, educate, un-sort resort, and continue to gather paper and food to be turned into soil.  It really has been the bulk of the effort to work toward my goals to reduce waste.

But there was more.  Kind of like the topping, I guess.  We needed to take on new practices, learn new habits, jab at the suppliers who used wasteful packaging, and be willing to share what we were learning to anyone who was interested, and cheer along with the customers who were noticing that we were doing something different.  

Together, it has become quite a pie.

Without my desire there would be no place where the program could settle.  Without the additional efforts and learning the pie would be ok, but somehow always seeming to be missing something.

Together it works.

At the February meeting of our Lyndale Neighborhood Association business meeting, I’ll be hosting a gathering in our new restaurant space to share how we’ve taken the desire to be sustainably run and created a shell for action.  While I am happy to share what we’ve accomplished, what I really hope is to inspire a few more pie shells to get rolled out.  My hope is to create the desire to put “green action” into how everyone runs businesses.

This could be by moving to LED lighting to save energy on electricity costs in businesses with a lot of lighting.

This could be by making design efforts to be efficient with heating and air conditioning.

This could be by seeking materials to reuse that would otherwise have been headed into the waste stream.

This could be by choosing equipment that is designed to save energy.

And while all of these are great ideas, and good practices, the money that can be saved by putting them into use is probably the best part of this business plan.

For in the end, it is not really the architecture of the pie that matters, it is the taste, just as what really matters in business is the ability to make enough money to keep your business in business.

In this case, green efforts are a piece of pie.