Nomads at home in Kennett on Fridays
By Kerigan Butt
Courtesy Photo Molly has found that five-inch pies are the perfect size for singles. If they're not eaten right away, they are easy to freeze.
By Nancy Johnson
It’s amazing what a person can accomplish in a year if they put their mind to it. Add in some youthful energy, a bubbly personality and a true love for one’s job and you’ve described Molly Johnston of Nomadic Pies.
Johnston, who just turned 25, launched her mobile pie business at the Kennett Farmers Market in May of 2012 without a truck. “My goal was to be here for the opening, but I didn’t quite have all my licenses in line,” she explained.
Such a detail might deter the average person, but not Molly. “I wasn’t going to miss it, though, so we set up a table and handed out samples and it was very well received,” she said.
By the following week, she was ready to go with the signature Nomadic Pies truck, a re-purposed newspaper delivery truck that's stocked with fruit pies, savory pies and quiches. Within weeks, Johnston had a following and would frequently sell out at the weekly market.
Her pies are made with fresh ingredients, primarily from local farmers. The eggs are from her own flock of chickens. She butchers chickens, and soon turkeys, for some of her most tantalizing creations – savory pies. She admits that for the first few months, the Kennett Square patrons were not familiar with the meat pies that are so popular in Britain. “I was a little worried at first, but now they are usually the first pies that sell out,” she said with a grin.
“You can put just about anything in a pie,” she said. “The chicken curry pie was my dad’s idea. My personal favorite is the steak, mushroom, onion and Gruyere cheese pie. It’s like a cheesesteak in a pie!”
Molly learned the art of savory pies from Rodney Henry, proprietor of Dangerously Delicious Pies in Baltimore. Molly and her high-school sweetheart had recently graduated from college and were engaged when Dan Kaufman’s employer assigned him to a one-year stint in Baltimore. Molly was determined to find something worthwhile to do there.
“It was my sister and best friend, Hannah, who came up with the suggestion. She told me, ‘You’ve always loved to bake. So try the bread from several bakeries and then march right in to the one with the best bread and tell them to hire you,’” Molly said.
“That’s basically what I did, but it was pies. I told Rod that I wanted to open my own pie shop someday, and so I wanted to work for him. I was pretty shocked when he replied, ‘OK, can you start on Tuesday?’”
Molly not only learned what it takes to bake pies for a retail market, but she also learned how to run a business when Henry asked her to open and run a second Dangerously Delicious location in Baltimore. The experience confirmed her decision to start her own business when the couple returned to Pennsylvania.
From the start, her family members have encouraged the venture, and shared in it. Her father and husband did a great deal of the work in converting the delivery truck to a food truck. Although the pies are baked before they are taken to various venues, the truck has a warming cabinet, as well as refrigeration, to keep them at optimum temperatures.
It wasn’t long until Nomadic Pies branched out, making weekly treks to West Chester, Coatesville, East Goshen and Chester Springs. It keeps Molly very busy and in need of help.
“I don’t know what I would do without Stacey,” she said. Stacey Poland, her mother-in-law, is helping at Kennett. “When there are markets that overlap, I go to one and Stacey handles the other.”
When asked why she would leave her profession as a physician to sell pies, Stacey answered with a smile, “This is a much better deal. I love it in Kennett. The vendors here are just fantastic."
As they set up their stands, several other vendors greeted her. Cheryl Ames of Sweet Salvation Truffles wandered over to ask how the caramel she made for Molly had worked out.
“Look!” Molly said, holding up one of the apple caramel crumb pies. Although she will make any pie larger for a special order, Molly made 25 five-inch apple caramel crumb pies for the Kennett crowd that day. Just an hour into the market, only a few remained.
Molly was pretty sure the new offering would be a hit. “There are five kinds of apples in these pies, all from Rex Farms Orchards. They have incredible fruit. When my customers ask for a recommendation, I tell them to try something that is in season and may not be around long.”
She laughed when she recalled the sour cherry pies. “They were absolutely phenomenal, but the season for sour cherries is very short. I bought 400 pounds of them [from Rex Farms Orchards] and pitted them all myself!”
When she started out, she baked all her pies in a commercial kitchen owned by Martha Pisano of Highland Farm Sheep Dairy. Her bright smile faded momentarily as she thought of her late friend. “She was my mentor and my second mom," she said.
Recently, Molly and Dan purchased a building in Parkesburg and are in the process of refurbishing it to serve as the headquarters (and kitchen) for Nomadic Pies, as well as a home for themselves. “It’s going to be great to be baking in my pajamas!” Molly said.
With a lot of help from family and friends, the couple already has the kitchen facilities functioning. And while she has no thoughts of the storefront building replacing her funky pie truck, Molly sees it as a multipurpose addition. Its usefulness was apparent when the Kennett Farmers Market was canceled due to inclement weather.
“I had about 60 pies baked and nowhere to take them,” Molly said. “So I put it on Facebook that I was having a market cancellation sale at our home base. A bunch of my regulars stopped by and we sold out."
Eventually, Molly would like to serve farmhouse dinners at the Parkesburg site. “We’re not done the renovations yet, but I already have my eye out for the perfect long farmhouse table,” she said with a grin.
Some of the farmers markets are on hiatus for the winter and even those that remain open are not as busy now. Always the optimist, Molly sees this as a time to be able to do more special holiday orders, as well as catering.
“It’s just great when your job is something you love!” she said.