Here is a name you need to know: Lisa Ludwinski. She’s the frenetic owner behind Detroit’s breakout bakery, Sister Pie. The bakery Bon Appetit named one of this year’s 50 best new restaurants, quipping they’d drive to Detroit just to eat here. Last week, that’s exactly what we did.
The Jeni’s crew piled into a car (stocked with the only road trip essential: La Croix) and trekked the 3 hours up to the West Village neighborhood for a one-night-only, pie- and ice-cream pop-up with Sister Pie.
We’ve been fans of Lisa ever since she opened her corner bakeshop 16 months ago inside a former salon. Everything about Sister Pie feels hospitable, like walking into the living room of your best friend, who also happens to be a killer baker (and a great dancer, but more on that later). Order coffee and you’ll be directed to the piebrary, an old cabinet filled with mismatched coffee mugs. Feeling like paying it forward? You can pre-pay for a slice of pie for someone else to enjoy later. Charming doesn’t begin to describe it.
Our main mission for this collaboration (aside from consuming as many Buckwheat Chocolate Chips Cookies as possible): show there really is no better sidekick to freshly baked pies or cookies then ice cream. Lisa, who’s been a fan of Jeni’s for years, says a great dessert pairing all comes down to texture. “That’s what so great about pie,” she says. “It’s got this textural element, it’s crispy, it’s crunchy. I find that the hyper creaminess of Jeni’s ice cream—it’s the creamiest ice cream i’ve ever had—works so well as a topping.”
Detroit couldn’t have been more welcoming. More than 100 people packed into the corner bakery for Sun-Popped Corn ice cream with blueberry, lemon, thyme compote and an all-butter crust wedge, Salty Caramel ice cream with crumbles of Sister Pie’s fan-favorite Buckwheat Chocolate Chip cookies, and Lemon Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt with signature Salted Maple pie.
Lisa, who is currently working on her first cookbook, caught us up on how her first year in a brick-and-mortar, how what she really wanted to do was direct plays, and dance breaks.
For the people who have (unfortunately!) never heard of Sister Pie, can you tell us a little about what you do, and what makes your bakery so very special?
Sister Pie is a little corner bakery in the West Village of Detroit. We opened 16 months ago in this space, but we’ve been around for four years. Now we’ve grown to a staff of 14 women, which makes us special on our own.
The reason I chose to make pie is two fold, and defines why we do what we do. Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the country, second only to California. Which is a fun fact I love to brag about. Pie is a wonderful way to showcase all the wonderful fruits and vegetables that come through the state throughout the year.
And then the fact that pie is a communal food. It’s made together and shared together. It’s about creating this one space that’s welcoming and friendly both for employees and customers. Delicious food and a great customer experience all echoing this concept of sisterhood.
You have ended up in pie, but that’s not where you started, right?
I was a theater major in college. That’s why I moved to New York. I wanted to direct feminist plays. But I got distracted by food because I was living in New York, and how could I not be? So I started doing a cooking show out of my apartment. It was a way to teach myself about cooking, and to figure out if this is something I wanted to do. [Her YouTube show, Funny Side Up, is a hilarious glimpse into Lisa’s infectious personality.]
Then I worked at a couple of bakeries, most notable Momofuku Milk Bar. I learned how a bakery business runs. But during that time, I was coming back to Detroit a lot to visit my family. They would take me to Eastern Market, which is this huge, awesome farmers market. Everyone in Detroit was doing a new project and everyone had a social mission.
I started the business because I wanted it to be a socially responsible, do-good type business with respect for the triple bottom line. That’s the driving force behind why I wanted to start a business, and the pie was secondary.
How did you settle on the West Village neighborhood?
I chose this corner because I fell love with the neighborhood. My friend was opening Parker Street Market (just across the street), and we started selling our pies and cookies out of the market. I was constantly bringing products back to him because we were selling out so quickly. It was a great way to realize there was not only a demand, but that people would travel all over Detroit and beyond to come get our stuff.
We opened up on this corner and it’s great. It’s a pretty residential community around us. We are a neighborhood bakery. I wanted to be a place to walk to Sunday morning and have a scone and coffee.
What’s the must-order for a first timer?
Our Salted Maple pie—that sweet and salty combo is really popular. That’s a pie we have year-round. It’s inspired by two pies that were very formative in my career. One at Milk Bar called Crack Pie; the other at Four & Twenty Blackbirds called Salted Honey. Our Salted Maple an homage to both of these places that were instrumental to taking me to my next step. It turned out to be a big hit. We use this Michigan maple syrup that’s super deep and flavorful. All local dairy and eggs, and Maldon flaky sea salt.
Our Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookie is one of my favorites. We make it with 100% buckwheat flour so it’s naturally gluten free. We get our flour from a small family mill, and you can taste that our flour was milled with love.
OK, let’s talk dance breaks. Your Instagram feed is dotted with mini-dance party videos. You crowd-funded to open the bakery partly from money raised by a 24-hour dance break-a-thon. Have you always been one to break into dance? And is there a song you can’t help but dance to when it’s on?
That’s where my theater background comes out. We try to keep it as light as we can in the kitchen. When a good song comes on, we bust it out. I have to say there was a time when “Sorry” by Justin Bieber was a major dancing inspired moment in the kitchen. Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is another one. For me, any yacht rock song Hall and Oates and Steely Dan really gets us going. We are going to start this series of dance breaks called Whisking It. Basically, we found the whisk motion is something you can do to any hip hop song.