I was in a sad place the first time I went to Mission Pie. I had left my job of 18 years and was feeling lonely and vulnerable. The sweet smells of butter and sugar began to lift my spirits immediately. In the case rows of sweet and savory pies featured the flavors of the season: strawberry rhubarb; vegan apple rhubarb; Shaker lemon; mini-mixed berry, walnut, and an assortment of galettes, scones, muffins, salads and more.
I ordered a slice of quiche and a cup of coffee and sat down at the large communal table next to a group of students who were working on a project. Two older men shared a newspaper. A father and a toddler spelled out words with brightly colored letters at a small table in the window. Young Mission Pie people delivered slices of pie topped with piles of whipped cream. The quiche arrived warm from the oven and was delicious—a savory custard filled with fresh peas and bacon.
The whole scene made me so happy so quickly that I half-jokingly asked the young girl behind the register if there were any jobs available.
“Are you in a program?” she asked.
“What kind of program?” I said.
“Youth job placement…?” she asked earnestly.
If I had even read anything about Mission Pie, I would have known that besides being on Mission Street, the “mission” of this bakery is to be truly sustainable at all levels: from serving fair-trade coffee and organic milk to sourcing locally grown fruit, vegetables, and grains, to repurposing counter tops and most importantly, hiring and mentoring youth and young interns from within the community.
More than half of the store’s staff are under 25 years old and for many this is their first job, a deliberate choice by Mission Pie. The intention? To help young people in the community develop a healthy relationship to work, while arming them with transferable job skills and a stable work environment, as well as a chance to work on their mentorship and leadership.
Everyone I have met since who works at Mission Pie has been really lovely and it is exciting to see how a business can provide job training while creating a gathering place for the community. When I spoke to Dana Bialek she pointed me to a piece she wrote for the Mission Pie blog that summarized what working at Mission Pie meant to her:
“Food has been my education in community and generosity. In an urban landscape, food often takes place in commercial venues. Mission Pie is one of those—a bakery and café that specializes in, well, pie. Yet what makes Mission Pie special is the intention. At the heart of my work behind the counter is this question: How can a food experience feel intimate when the premise is not do-it-yourself, but, rather, have-it-done-for-you? If we do our job well, customers can interact with our food in a way that brings them to one of those ah-ha moments. This is how food happens.”
The owners of Mission Pie, Karen Heisler and Krystin Rubin are deeply committed to being a sustainable business, one that makes decisions according to environmental, social, and economic values. This commitment and generosity inspires me every time I walk in that door:
“A lot of people talk about Mission Pie as a business that ‘gives back’ to its communities. While we appreciate the praise, we tend to reject the phrase. To us, “giving back” implies that the success of the business relies on an unfair take away – taking from customers, from the neighborhood, from vendors or staff. Every day since we opened in January 2007, we have practiced fair exchange – giving and taking – with our staff, our vendors, our neighbors and our customers. We know this fairness is key to offering you the highest quality of experience and food. We measure Mission Pie’s success not by what we take from others but by what we do to ensure fairness in what we give and take in trade, wage, and commerce. So we can’t call it a successful day without doing our fair share of giving.”
This spirit of giving is what Feed Your People is all about. And in a city where a cup of coffee costs $4, Mission Pie makes sure that their food is affordable. A cup of coffee Mission Pie is $1.50 with a free refill in-house. The pie is never more than $4. Also Mission Pie is open late so if you get a craving you can satiate it until 10:00pm.
I’m in a much better place than when I first went to Mission Pie. I go there regularly not only for the pie but for the sense of connectedness (and the smell of butter, of course!). I haven’t tried to apply for a job there in a while, but it is nice to know that just in case, it is there.