Pam Runyans of the ABC Pie Company
For Pamela Runyans of Raleigh, creating a successful baking business from scratch was an easy endeavor. Easy as pie? Not exactly, because turning out an ever-changing selection of exceptional and irresistible pies for Triangle customers calls for creativity, energy and expertise. For her, it’s been as easy as ABC, as in “Abigail, Bob, and Camille”, her three grown children who are the inspiration for her thriving business.
Runyans’s ABC Pie Company dates back to 2004, when she faced a serious case of insomnia brought on by love. Her oldest child Bob had graduated from West Point that spring, and was newly deployed to Iraq. Concern for his safety robbed her of the ability to sleep through the night. “Iraq was on fire,” she recalls, “and I couldn’t sleep or stop watching the news, so I started making pies. You know, making pastry is a process: you have to pay attention when you’re rolling out a pie crust!” she says today with a smile.
“It’s an alien feeling for a parent, wanting to protect your child who is leaving to go to war. There I was, in my kitchen with a rolling pin, thinking ‘He is in a Humvee over there in Iraq, and here I am in this kitchen, baking pies. Call me! E-mail me!’ Mostly I made apple pies at first: basic apple pie, lattice-top apple pie, apple crumble pie, sour cream apple pie, caramel apple crumble pie. Soon we had all these pies in the house that we didn’t really need. I filled up the freezer and then started giving them away: to guests, to neighbors, to soup kitchens.”
Pamela Runyans grew up around great home cooks who also knew the food business. Her mother’s family ran a restaurant in Virginia, with a famous apple pie, and both her mother and grandmother were excellent home cooks. “I grew up watching my mother roll out pie crust — during peach season, she made a peach pie almost every day. I spent summers with my grandmother, who had a big apple tree out in the backyard.”
Pamela’s father was a minister whose work took him and his family to Florida where she was born, and then to Shelby, North Carolina when she was 14. “My father was a great cook, too!” she notes, praising his ability to turn out batch after batch of great biscuits, sometimes with bacon mixed into the dough.
After months of all-night baking, Pamela took stock of her situation: “I needed money to pay for all that pastry I had been rolling out!!” she laughed. She also needed to find places for all that pie, so she knew it was time for her to up her baking game. “I was good, but I wanted to do it better. I called up my very talented cousin in Virginia who bakes for a restaurant and said ‘Will you teach me everything you know?’ She said yes, and we had so much fun being in the kitchen together. I learned so much from her! We still flute our crusts differently, one using thumb and the other forefinger. But now I know that no two bakers do things exactly the same way.”
“Soon I got my kitchen inspected, and started finding out what else I needed to do. I have been lucky all along the way. I had read about Arnold Wilkerson of the Little Pie Company of New York City. I called him for advice and he said, ‘Come on up here! I’ll give you four days of access to whatever I’m doing.’” Pamela soon headed up to the Big Apple and returned home greatly inspired, a little more educated in the baking business, and quite enamored with one particular concept: the five-inch pie, which makes a perfect little pie for two.
Today the ABC Pie Company sweetens the Triangle with an abundance of pies all year round, available in two locations. One is A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, where the bakery section stocks a variety of Pamela’s flavors. Thursdays and Sundays, she heads over to the store to meet her customers, visit, and treat them to samples of her latest pies. You’ll also find Pamela’s pies frozen and ready to take home at NOFO @ The Pig in Raleigh’s historic Five Points district, located in a former Piggly Wiggly Grocery store near Glenwood South. When NOFO @ The Pig hosts their signature seasonal events, inviting local food vendors to share their wares in a pop-up marketplace, you can expect to find Pamela there with her fabulous pies.
Both Pamela and her husband’s fathers served during World War II, in the Navy and the Air Force respectively. Their children have created a family tradition of career military service. Ten years after her big brother Bob’s graduation from West Point and pie-business-creating deployment to Iraq, daughter Camille also graduated from West Point this past May, and has begun her own Army career. Son Bob returned home safely from Iraq and is now stationed in Bamberg, Germany as an Army attorney.
A while back, Runyans’s middle daughter Abigail was in the middle of graduate studies in chemistry at NC State, when she came into the kitchen with a question. “She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, what would you think if I joined the Army?’ I was shocked, and before I could answer, she smiled and said, ‘Actually, I already did, and I leave for basic training soon!’” Now a Second Lieutenant, Abigail is doing graduate work in Washington, DC.
The ABC Pie Company grew out of Pamela’s love for her son as he began his military service. With not one, but three children serving their country in the Army today, it’s reasonable to assume that the Piedmont region of North Carolina will be enjoying Pamela’s fine and varied pies for a long time to come. “Bob called me last week from Germany,” Pamela notes. “He wanted to tell me that he had been thinking about my pies, and wanted me to know which one was his favorite. I thought it was pecan, but he told me it’s my Red Velvet Pie with white chocolate and toasted pecans. I like knowing that he was thinking about my pies.”