Meet The Maker

Handmade Fruit Whidbey Pies

Baked with island love

September 30, 2022  |   by Shauna Ahem

If you’ve purchased a fruit pie from Metropolitan Market in the last 20-ish years, there’s a good chance that it was made by the talented team of friends and family at Whidbey Pies.

Whidbey Pies has been making their famous fruit pies for nearly five decades. The pie company sits in the midst of Greenbank Farm, which was once the largest loganberry farm in the world. Jan Gunn and her family moved to Greenbank Farm in the early 1980s. Rather than commuting to jobs off island, she and her husband opened a fish market and café.

And then Jan began making pies. “Rolling out the dough, I spooned in the fresh berries, wove a lattice on top, baked until it browned and bubbled and offered pies to our tourists and neighbors alike. Soon I was making twenty, thirty pies a day. They were flying out the door.”

Handmade Fruit Whidbey Pies, Founder Jan Gunn from Metropolitan Market

In 1996, Jan and her family put their sole focus on the pies. Whidbey Pies has been baking scores of handmade pies every week since.

Joe Gunn, Jan’s son, moved to Brooklyn after college, and worked as a commercial photographer. “In a city like New York, you can disappear. That can be nice. But after a while, you kind of lose yourself a little bit.”

Joe was on location in India for a photoshoot when he noticed that one of the other photographers on the shoot used Facetime to call into her daughter’s 1st birthday party.

“After that, I decided to find out what was important to me. I shared so many values with people on the island. Living in that community grounded me as a person.”

When his mother Jan called to say she was ready to retire, Joe decided to head home and root himself in his community again.

Now, he feels sure about his decision to move back home. “I’m representing my business, my mom, my wife, and kids, everywhere I show up in the community.”

Plus, it was time to make pie again. “When I was in NY, my friends referred to me as the pie prince. I was so snobby about pie. I was pie deprived.”

How did the folks at Whidbey Pie Company make your pie?

“Our pies are perfectly imperfect. No two pies will ever be the same. While we make about 600 pies a day — and during the holidays, it’s about 1000 pies a day — each one is a handmade pie. Each of our 20 employees has their own way of making pies. Each team member has a distinctive crimp.”

Instead of running this production with stress, Joe Gunn lives what his mom said on a day where everything seemed to go wrong.

“It’s just pie!”

Handmade Fruit Whidbey Pies, Slices from Metropolitan Market

That’s why Joe and his team intend for the pie making to be as fun as possible. All the employees and management are on the same group text, bantering back and forth. They also do activities together outside of work.

“We try to offer a living wage, which is harder and harder here on the island. But it matters. Our staff works hard. We could not do what we do without them.”

The employees know that Joe Gunn works as hard as they do. They see him moving palettes around in the warehouse. He drives over to Eastern Washington to pick up fruit for the pies. He shows up to work prepared and ready to tackle the day.

“It’s a labor of love to make pie. And while it’s hard work to produce 600 to 1000 pies a day, you can’t be angry when you’re making pie. We know that we’re bringing joy to people with these pies.”

Whidbey Pies creates four flavors of pie a day: cherry, triple-berry, granny-smith apple, and a seasonal pie.

For years the pie company was known for their marionberry pie, a classic northwest flavor. But in 2021, the heat dome in June killed the majority of the marionberry crop in Washington.

“As a smaller producer, we’re low on the rung. So we had zero marionberry for 2021. Zero. We’re waiting for this year’s crop to ripen so we can offer it again. We’re a small business. We are at the whims of nature.”

Without marionberries, Joe and the team did pie trials with blackberries from different sources, to maintain the high quality of their pie.

“The secret to our success is that we let the fruit speak for itself. So we needed the best fruit we could find.”

The triple berry pie that they offer now — blackberry, blueberry, and strawberry — is the result of that testing.

Handmade Fruit Whidbey Pies, Truck from Metropolitan Market

Metropolitan Market is proud to be an early supporter of the company. “We started wholesaling pies with Metropolitan Market in 2003. They know we’re a small producer on a small island, with its own issues of labor shortages and housing shortages. They have always understood when something has come up. They understand the value in a handmade, artisanal pie.”

Even though running Whidbey Pies comes with enormous challenges, Joe Gunn and his team know why they keep persevering. He explains, “when I was a kid, I was made to bring a pie to every party or event we attended. And I saw the effect of that gift. Pie opens doors. It crosses divisions. With its sweet fruit filling and a golden crust, pie is the perfect vessel for joy.”

Whidbey Pies produces 1000 pies a week for Metropolitan Market, available at all locations. From everyday apple pies to super limited seasonal varieties, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors perfect for any occasion.

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