Where did you grow up? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in Wisconsin Dells. My first plans were to open my own pizza place because I love pizza, but then I started becoming interested in the weather. I watched Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel and wanted to be like him.
What was your first job and when?
I would make some cash from mowing lawns around our neighborhood, but my first structured job was when I turned 14. I started working at the Culvers in downtown Wisconsin Dells.
Many people might be surprised to learn that "The Pie Guy" received a Bachelor of Science degree in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology from UW-Madison. What were your initial career goals and how did they change?
I was an amateur storm chaser along with my classmates in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program. I had aspirations to one day work at the National Severe Storms Laboratory or move to Florida and research and forecast hurricanes. Unfortunately there weren't a lot of job opportunities at the time and I was making more landscaping. Taking a job would have required relocating, and moving across the country away from all of my friends and family wasn't appealing.
What was the catalyst for you to go back to school in 2009 and receive a certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts from Madison College?
In 2006 I herniated a disc in my lower back and was laid up for the winter. This is when Ace of Cakes (on the Food Network with Duff Goldman) was big and I thought, "Hey, I should try doing that." So I started doing some fancy cakes with fondant, (edible frosting used to decorate cakes), for friends and family, which led to me going to get professional training at Madison College.
Give me a snapshot of a typical day in the life of a baker.
Waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. is difficult, and it doesn't get easier over time. Coffee is definitely a baker's friend! First we go through what's left from the day before, determine what needs to be made for the day and make out the lists. We make muffins, scones, biscuits and dinner rolls each morning and the pies, cheesecakes, cakes and cookies. We talk to customers, answer questions and dance a little in the bakery while we're working because you have to have some fun at work! We clean up and are usually done by 1 or 2 pm.
What is the best part about your job? The most fun, the most challenging?
Being able to instantly see the excitement and satisfaction that our desserts bring to everyone. Seeing people socializing, catching up with friends and family or on a date enjoying a dessert.
The most fun part is trying new things, testing new recipes and working with different people all over the area.
The most challenging part of the job is trying to produce the amount of products that we do in the small amount of space we have. It's especially challenging when we're trying to make 2,000 pies each Thanksgiving or over 2,000 slices of pie for Pi Day. People always tell me they're not sure how we do it, and I usually tell them, I'm not sure either, but we manage to do it.
You've really brought pies into the local media spotlight, doing interviews, being active on social media and creating fun events. Tell me about Pi Day and your annual Pie Eating Contest.
Pi Day started before I came to work at Hubbard. It's been growing in popularity, and our annual Pie Eating Contest is featured on WISC-TV3 every year. The media spotlight on this event has helped make this a very popular event, we're now selling over 2,000 slices of pie and hundreds of whole pies, and every year we hit a new record. The winner receives free pie for a year.
There are more than 100 pies on the menu at Hubbard Avenue Diner and Bakery, with names like Kentucky Derby Pie (pecans, chocolate and bourbon); Double Dark Chocolate Decadence and Strawberry Margarita. What is your favorite pie? What are your best-selling pies? You probably don't want to give away your secrets, but what is it that makes your pies so good?
Hard to narrow it down to one favorite, but a few are the Hot Fudge Malt (my own creation), Irish Cream, Duo of Silks and Crème Brûlée. Best-selling pies are Apple, French Silk, Cherry and Key Lime.
What makes our pies so good is that we make all of our fillings and toppings from scratch. We use real butter and gourmet cream; it adds richness to the pies. People can tell the difference between a pie made from scratch and one that's mass produced on machines.
What is it about pie that makes it so special?
I think pie is timeless. It will never go out of style. We all have those memories of our moms or grandmas making us pies when we were kids. I've always loved baking and when I found my niche here at Hubbard, I wanted to share that with the community and get people excited for dessert (not that people aren't excited for dessert)!
What do you like to do for fun? Vacations, pastimes, family?
My wife and I enjoy visiting Door County and we recently were in Jamaica for our honeymoon and would love to go back. We enjoy hiking, bird watching and checking out the stars at night. Surprisingly I enjoy cooking and baking outside of work as well, although I don't get a chance to do it as much as I would like to.