The secret to the famous crust at Livin’ the Pie Life in Arlington won’t be entirely divulged here but there are a few hints. “Butter,” Heather Sheire, co-owner, says. “There is a lot of butter. It tastes delicious and is easy to work with. Everyone loves butter.”
Then there is the three-day process. First the flour and salt get blended with a high ratio of butter and a little shortening. Then it rests. The next day the flour and butter get mixed with ice water. Then it rests again. The third day the dough gets rolled out into a crust for the pies and quiches that fill the glass compartment inside the door five days a week.
“I think all that resting makes a difference,” Sheire says.
Today is Thursday, often the busiest day of the week preparing for the weekend rush. The dedicated baker has arrived at 5:30 a.m. to bake the quiches and the cinnamon rolls made the night before. In half an hour, three more staff will arrive with another shift in the afternoon who will prepare the quiches, make the brownies, ice the cakes, cut the apples and precook them, measure out the berries. “Then we are ready to grab a tin, roll out the pie dough and plop in the filling.”
Apple pie is the all time customer favorite, and today they have made nine full-size apple, 12 mini and four 8-inch pies. In the beginning it was difficult to predict quantities to have available for customers but as time has passed, the weeks have taken on a rhythm and a certain predictability. But you never know.
Wendy MacCallum, co-owner, says in the summer we couldn’t make enough key lime. Then for two weeks we didn’t sell any.”
Sheire adds, “And people love peach pie the first few weeks but as time goes by they get tired of it.”
Sheire says, “When we have leftovers we donate them to the firefighters, the police officers, the schools. Recently when our power went out and we couldn’t bake our already assembled quiches we donated them to a school for the teachers’ lunch.” Also on the selection list today are four different scones including blueberry and chive with jack cheese as well as two savory quiches including the most popular quiche Lorraine, 10 pie choices including pumpkin chiffon with gingersnap crust, salted chocolate caramel chess, triple berry and mile high chocolate. Three large size cookie choices include chocolate chip, peanut butter and ginger molasses, the latest addition. “I spent a lot of time tinkering with the molasses cookie until I was happy with it. With the peanut butter, too,” Sheire says.
MacCallum says they have a talented staff who have mostly been with them since the beginning. “We give them latitude and add things that they suggest to the choices for customers.” MacCallum says most of the pie recipes came from Sheire. “She grew up in Seattle where there is a lot of pie. I grew up in Florida. Pies aren’t big down there except maybe key lime in the summer. That recipe is mine. My mother probably never baked a pie in her life. I baked with my grandmother.”
MacCallum says she and Sheire first met in 2011 at a Barcroft Elementary PTA auction where MacCallum was in charge of the auction, and Sheire was in charge of the food. But it wasn’t until later in 2012 that they got together to make and sell pies when Sheire put out a query on a neighborhood listserv inquiring if anyone would want to join her in baking pies.
Sheire and MacCallum started selling baked goods at the Clarendon Farmers Market on Wednesdays. Sheire says, “We cooked in the commercial kitchen at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Route 50 and George Mason.”
MacCallum remembers, “We went in the kitchen and started laughing and singing show tunes. We had such a good time.”
Sheire says, “We got up on market days, went to the church kitchen and baked our pies, put them in boxes, loaded up for the market and set up our tent. We sold them still warm from the oven. Then we had to take everything down and pack it back up.
“We gave out a lot of samples at the market. The samples made us.” Sheire says people would grab a sample and walk away, then head back after they had tasted it and buy a pie. “We were loud. We made a lot of friends there.” They also sold cookies and cake. Sheire says she likes to bake cakes and, “who doesn’t like cake?”
The two partners say they offered a lot of variety even early on but couldn’t sell cold pies without refrigeration. “Apple was big and pumpkin and pecan. It was very seasonal.” Sheire says they have a great relationship with Twin Springs Farm where they get their fresh fruit in season for their rotating selection of pies.
Blackberry is Sheire’s favorite pie although they only sell it in August. Peaches, pears and plums as well as some herbs come from the farm as well as tomatoes for the savory tomato gruyere quiche. “Sometimes we just ask the farmer ‘What do you have this week?’”
Finally in 2016 MacCallum had found a good space just around the corner of Glebe and Langston Blvd. She says before Covid, they had an eat-in space where customers could sit and have their quiche or dessert. Then when Covid hit they needed to expand the work space for the comfort of the workers. “Then the staff got used to it and liked all of that extra counter space so we never went back.”
MacCallum remembers during Covid they sold preorders on the outdoor patio. “We had orders tacked up on the wall. We went an entire year selling pies on the patio under a tent. I’m so proud of how we all got through this.”
Sometimes they get 100 pie orders for weddings or from Realtors who like to give out pies at Thanksgiving. Sheire says, “We do quite a few weddings. Pies seem to be big for weddings.
“And a neighbor wanted a raisin pie so I tried it, and another semi-regular customer wanted us to try her mother’s classic sweet potato pie recipe. It was a good recipe, and she brought her mother in to taste it.”
MacCallum adds, “We like to offer things you don’t find other places like grasshopper pie with creme de menthe and creme de cacao.”
Then there was the time Sheire decided she just had to try a grape pie. “It was so labor intensive. You had to pinch the grapes out of the skins, then cook and strain out the seeds.”“And MacCallum said, “You were a sticky mess from head to toe.”
Sheire says the cost of pies has gone up since they were selling in the market. She says that was 2012, and the cost of ingredients has gone up. “Everything went up—boxes, flour, butter, everything more than you would believe.”
When asked if they would consider opening a second location, they reply in unison, “We think about it—the right time, the right place, the right situation. We haven’t ruled it out.”