Blackbird Artisan Pie
When she was a young girl, all Susie Hogue wanted to be when she grew up was a stay-at-home-mom and wife. Indeed, she married young and had three children by the time she was 24. There was only one hitch after she got hitched and became a mother. Susie jokes that she couldn’t even boil water at that point. She did not know how to cook, which to her was a key qualification for being a stay-at-home-mom and wife.
After having her first baby, Susie’s mother-in-law could sense she needed some help. One day, before her mother-in-law left the house, she handed Susie a recipe, told her the ingredients were in the fridge and requested the food be made by the time she returned. Triumphantly, Susie did it. She says she was good at following instructions and the food turned out great. That’s when she realized how much she loved nourishing people with food.
Later down the road, when the kids were a bit older, Susie started making little pies. When she was eight, her grandmother taught her how to make pie, but the lessons went in one ear and out the other. Now enthusiastic about pie-making, she carefully crafted her own recipe. She made cherry pies and apple pies and made them available to the kids as they played outside. The pies were not just for playtime or dessert, however. The family would eat pies for breakfast, too, or basically whenever. Pies were not all the family ate, of course. They also harvested vegetables from their very own garden.
In the Newport Beach Back Bay area at the time, not far from where Susie grew up herself, the family lived atypically. Aside from the large, organic vegetable garden on their land, they also had 13 chickens. Contrasting her situation with the neighbors – famous athletes or doctors – Susie says her family was quite poor with their vegetables and chickens. Not to mention, they only had one vehicle for a while.
Some years later, Susie got divorced. No longer a wife, and with her kids all nearly grown, she says she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Since she knew how to sew, she started her own design business. She learned accounting through school and ran the business for ten years before deciding she was done with it. She vowed to never own a business again because it was far too much work.
After the kids had all left home, Susie planned to move further north on the California coastline. Instead, a friend offered her a room in San Clemente, and she moved south. In retrospect, Susie is thankful for where she moved as she reflects on falling in love with San Clemente. She quickly met the best group of friends and was delighted to ride her bicycle freely around town without being judged. A San Clemente resident for six years now, she loves her community.
She landed a job as a bookkeeper for Fisherman’s and shared her dream of opening a pie shop with the director, Bob Novello one day. She made it clear that she also wanted to be a vendor in the Hurley Pro. After Novello tasted Susie’s pie, he immediately believed in the product and gifted her a display case to use at the 2016 Hurley Pro. At that point, Susie knew she couldn’t do it alone. She was grateful to her kids who had come onboard to help.
Her oldest son, Jarret and his wife, Gelyne had just moved back from Guam, and they came onboard, as well as Nathan, Susie’s youngest son. Susie’s daughter, Elizabeth commuted from Long Beach each night to help make the pies for the Hurley Pro. She also helped write the story. You see, as Elizabeth Hogue says, Blackbird Artisan Pie is about more than the pie:
“As our family drifted apart and we found ourselves in different parts of the world, we decided it was time to build something together as a family. Something that would bind us together and create a beautiful future. We decided to expand upon the one thing we could always agree on: Mom’s cooking! Not just any cooking, but her homemade pie!”
The pies were wildly successful at the Hurley Pro. With Novello’s invitation, Susie then opened a pop-up shop with pie and coffee at the Fisherman’s. The family stuck together as a team, and the success continued. Susie reflects on moments when they would win someone over, who wanted to keep walking along the pier and claimed they didn’t like pie. “Just try a bite,” they would say, and every single time, the unsure pier-walker would be pleased and buy a pie.
When her time at the pop-up shop at Fisherman’s was coming to a close, Susie was approached by Bear Coast Coffee about a wholesale partnership. At that point, the Hogues transformed their personal kitchen into a sterile pie-making factory. They spent a few months making pies there to be sold at Bear Coast Coffee. The pies have been a huge hit at Bear Coast as well.
About a year after the 2016 Hurley Pro, Blackbird Artisan Pie is now operating out of their own kitchen in the Old City Plaza on Avenida Palizada. Publisher of San Clemente Lifestyle Magazine, Gia Luciano helped Susie find a place where she could officially go out on her own. Her dream-come-true pie shop is doing quite well, and the business has expanded its wholesale reach as well. Along with Bear Coast, the pies can be purchased at Hanson’s, The Cellar and Casa Café at Casa Romantica.
As for flavors, both savory and sweet pies are on offer with options like Mushroom Kale, Tomato Feta, Lemon Curd, Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Banana Nutella, Mango Coconut and of course, Apple. Susie wishes to keep her flavors true to the classic, Americana vibe. She is unable to decide which is her favorite because it’s always changing. She is also making an effort to cater to her gluten-intolerant customers and has developed a couple of gluten-free options as well. It was quite an effort to come up with a gluten-free flour recipe she liked, but she eventually did it.
Creating gluten-free pie wasn’t the only challenge along the way. Susie says during the first six months while she was working at the Fisherman’s, she seriously wondered if she could make it. To begin with, this new venture was out of her comfort zone, and it went against the vow she made to never own a business again. She was barely surviving in order to make it work. She ate one meal a day – her daily meal at the Fisherman’s – and spent her grocery money solely on pie ingredients. She says she was practically in the corner sucking her thumb, asking herself the same question every night: Is this going to work?
Moments later, she says, “And here we are.”
There were many times when she knew what needed to be done but didn’t know how to get there. Along with everyone who has helped along the way, as well as the family’s hard work and grit, Susie attributes the success of Blackbird Artisan Pie to God. Through all the uncertainty, something would always present itself; a door would always open. Reflecting on this, Susie got goosebumps. When asked about the use of “Blackbird” in the name, she replied by reciting part of a nursery rhyme. We couldn’t quite understand and had to ask for clarification.
Susie began to sing, “Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was open birds began to sing…” (Sing a Song of Sixpence)
With the name and logo, she wanted nursery rhyme meets Edgar Allen Poe – but not too dark. With her artistic talent and the help Elizabeth’s friend, Zach Nelson (@ezwheelin), the perfect logo was created. She looks forward to expanding the brand and business through t-shirts and a second shop in Costa Mesa. As she welcomes her first grandchild, and Gelyne takes a break from pinching pie crust to become a mother, Susie has hired her first formal employee, Keith Kamikawa. Kamikawa is learning the art of pinching pie and contributing his sixpence to the business.
Kamikawa thought of an appropriate tagline: “Small batch from scratch.” The pies are made from scratch by a family and community with love, and the customers can feel it. Susie says she’s had some customers tell her how they’ve had dreams about the pie. A certain married couple even confessed to getting into a fight over the pies. Susie is just thrilled to be bringing pie to the community and making the dream a reality. As she reflects on the journey, she says she didn’t realize how much she had talked about opening a pie shop over the years.
On opening day, a neighbor of 20 years past came to the window and said to Susie, “You finally did it.”
Indeed, the Hogue family has done it. Visit Blackbird Artisan Pie to taste for yourself.
Located at 111 W. Avenida Palizada Unit #15-B, Blackbird Artisan Pie is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 am – 8 pm. You can follow the journey on Instagram, Facebook or at BlackbirdArtisanPie.com.