Sunday, January 13, 2013

Paulette - Loreto's Pie Lady

In my recent Blog describing Christmas dinner at Casablanca (my house here in Loreto Bay) I made reference to the pumpkin pie that we had for desert as coming from Ette’s Pies, which at the time gave me the idea that this establishment would be a good future Blog subject . . . well, the future is now!

I first got to know Paulette, the proprietress of said pie shop, when she was partners in a winning paella team at the inaugural competition held here several years ago.  Then just over a year ago she opened her Ette’s Pie Shop in the town of Loreto and I have been a fairly frequent customer ever since.  But I was curious about the story of how she came to be in the pie business here in our small town in the southern Baja, and so I arranged to meet her at the shop and find out more.

Paulette and her Husband first came to Loreto on a post-retirement RV trip through the Baja 17 years ago, and, like so many others ex-pats who have made their home here over the years, they fell in love with Loreto as one of the prettiest towns in the whole peninsula.  They soon had purchased an oceanfront lot on the north side of town and proceeded to build their dream home, an impressive 3 story structure.  In those days there were far fewer lodging options here than there are now, and not long after they were comfortably settled into their new home they started to receive unexpected visitors, knocking at their door inquiring if this was a Hotel?

After this had happened several more times Paulette decided that perhaps they were being sent a message and so she went about turning their home into a Bed & Breakfast, which quickly became very popular and for number of years operated on a more or less sold out basis most of the winter season.  Between her thriving business and her many social and charitable activities in the town, not to mention her passion for fishing in her custom designed Panga (that she employs a skipper for, so she can concentrate on the fishing) life was good - and busy.

However, like so many other businesses here in Loreto, things took a change for the worse after the winter of ‘08/’09 and the “perfect storm” of the economic crisis in the US, Swine Flu and too much negative press about Mexico, with the result that the B&B business dropped off dramatically.  However, Paulette kept busy, returning to the US to help run a friend’s restaurant business and wait for better times to return.

Back in Loreto during the summer of ’11, a planned weekend fishing expedition had to be postponed and so Paulette decided to take the opportunity to indulge one of her other passions and spent that whole Saturday in her kitchen baking pies – lots of pies!  The next morning early she set off to the Tianguis, or Sunday Market, and set up a booth selling her pies, whole and by the slice, to the largely Mexican clientele, since there are few “gringos” here during the heat of the summer.

It will come as no surprise now, to her many satisfied customers, that selling the pies at the Market were a great success and she sold out that first Sunday morning, and that initial success continued throughout the summer, building a delicious reputation among many of the local people.  (I digress for a moment, but for many of you reading this in northern climates, you will not appreciate the particular challenge of keeping cream pies and cheese cakes suitable for sale at an open air market on a simple folding table without refrigeration when the temperature is hitting 100 degrees with 80% humidity!  Paulette’s solution – she froze a 4” thick slab of ice in her biggest chafing dish and  fixed a cover over it so the pies stayed nicely chilled, displayed on ice, until the happy customers took them home to enjoy.)

Seeing the success of her summer market experiment, Paulette headed north to the US that Fall with a limited budget and a long shopping list of all the furniture, fixtures and kitchen equipment she needed to complete her meticulously planned new enterprise.  With extensive research, hours perusing Craig’s List and other sources and a generous helping of determination and creativity she bargained and even bartered for everything she needed to turn a previously somewhat shabby storefront on a main street in Loreto into the sparkling clean and warmly welcoming epitome of a Pie Shop.  (She proudly pointed out the custom cut lettering of her window sign with the matching professionally fabricated overhead sign outside and confided to me that she met a sign maker, who it turned out was an avid fisherman, and soon the deal was struck – he would supply her with her signage in exchange for an all expense paid week-long fishing vacation at her B&B in Loreto!)

Opening in time for US Thanksgiving (Pumpkin Pies!) a little over a year ago, the business took off quickly and with Sonya handling the front counter sales, Paulette soon added Norma as an assistant in the kitchen in back.  Homemade pies and deserts, cakes, muffins and even quiche and chicken pot pies were an almost instant success with the ex-pat community, hungry for familiar comfort foods and deserts for special occasions.  But, talking with Paulette, I understood that she takes particular pride in the growing acceptance and popularity of her baking with the local Mexican population – whose support, particularly through the long hot summer months when there are few other here, is vital to running a viable year-round business.            

I was allowed back into her small and spotless bakery kitchen that efficiently uses every square foot, and is stocked with every imaginable utensil and device necessary in a commercial operation, two Kitchenaid mixers, two Cuisineart processors, a domestic stove and a professional convection oven, two freezers and a fridge, and even a small storage trailer parked outside the back door for extra supplies.  “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place” could well be the motto over the door, and in the time I spent watching Paulette and Norma whip up a few more of their popular cheesecakes, it was clear that the whole set-up of the kitchen, and the shop itself, was geared to the efficient and professional production of a quality product – with a lot of love!

Getting to know a local character that has brought a rich and tasty new dimension to the enjoyment of food here in our town, while re-inventing herself and finding a business opportunity in a lifelong passion this is one of the most delicious parts of “Living Loreto”!