It's two weeks before Thanksgiving 2019, and Lauretta Jean’s Pie Bakery in Portland, Oregon, is in full swing. In addition to the brunch menu and baked goods on offer, the staff is busy preparing more than 1,000 pies for the upcoming holiday. Owner Kate McMillen levels with me: “It’s just, like, supernuts right now.”
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In the kitchen, there’s a frenzied assembly line. “Someone’s mixing, someone’s wrapping [dough], someone’s rolling,” she says. The walk-in freezer is stacked with hundreds of crimped doughs in Pyrex pie plates, and a rented refrigerated truck behind the bakery is ready to accommodate the overflow.
“It’s controlled chaos. It’s a ton of work, but when you’re working hard with people who like to work hard, it can be really, really fun. That’s what we’re going for,” she laughs.
In the summer of 2011, a friend encouraged Kate to sell pies at the local farmers’ market. “The farmers’ market was a great start because of the seasonality of pies. I made a lot of great relationships with farmers,” she says.
Later that year, she opened a downtown store that was “literally the size of a parking spot.” In 2012 she opened up a location in Southeast Portland. She refers to it as the “mother ship” because everything is baked there to supply the smaller downtown location.
“I always wanted to open my own thing. When I got into baking, I realized that pies were really hard. And I really wanted to master this superhard thing.”
Left: Kate McMillen (pictured) named her Portland bakery after her grandmother, Lauretta Jean, who taught her how to make pies.
Right: Several pies sit on shelves in a rotating pie case in the front room at Lauretta Jean's Pie Bakery.