By: Ariadne Ellsworth
April 8, 2016
Tesla founder Elon Musk has compared starting a company to baking: “You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.” For Daniel Sheehan, founder and head baker at The Humble Pie Company, Musk’s is a philosophy that rings close to home — both literally and figuratively. Founded in 2013, the Humble Pie Company is based in Providence and is dedicated to serving New England the finest quality pies made from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
The path towards owning his own bakery was paved by Sheehan’s sweet tooth and a passion for baking and hands-on work. Sheehan graduated from Roger Williams University with a degree in architecture; after college, Sheehan moved to Seattle where he worked as a carpenter and project manager. Guided by his sweet tooth, Sheehan would explore the area around job sites for local bakeries during lunch hour. Eventually, Sheehan found himself on the other side of the pastry counter, working first at Grand Central Bakery and then Café Besalu. When Sheehan moved back to Providence in 2011, he began work at Seven Stars Bakery. While working at Seven Stars, Sheehan also volunteered with Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Working at their warehouse, Sheehan helped receive local produce and got to know the local farmers who he describes as “doing an excellent job with produce in Rhode Island.” But Sheehan also noticed that while much of the produce was going to local area restaurants, almost none was going to local area bakeries, and he started to wonder how he could use fresh produce in a bakery setting, “I don’t remember exactly when it came to me, but it was ‘Oh yeah, pie obviously.’”
Having his own bakery came hand in hand with the baking career Sheehan had been aspiring towards. Furthermore, a pie bakery was a niche yet to be filled in Providence, “There was no dedicated pie bakery in Providence,” explains Sheehan, “I thought there would be wriggle room. Big cities might have a bunch of different businesses all doing the same but Providence has one of everything and there wasn’t a pie company.” Three years later the city has it: The Humble Pie Company.
Along with a small state, however, came worries about a small economy for pies. But, so far Sheehan says The Humble Pie Company has “blown financial projections out of the water.” Currently Sheehan and his staff are based out of the shared kitchen at Crossroads RI, but they’re actively looking for a kitchen of their own. The company produces 3,000 pies a week and sells them at local farmers markets and cafés. While Sheehan didn’t see himself wholesaling when he began the business, he’s been approached by a number of local cafés asking to carry his pies whose “standards, mission, and integrity aligned with ours.”
Sheehan describes The Humble Pie Company as a “values based business run according to personal values.” By buying and selling locally, The Humble Pie Company remains closely involved with the community on both the supply and demand side. “People want to believe that what they’re getting is being wholly made from the bakery,” Sheehan explains, “but that’s not always the case;” The Humble Pie Company is particularly dedicated to underscoring the company’s commitment to honesty when it comes to always baking from scratch. Being a value based business also comes with its share of fun, every year on March 14 The Humble Pie Company hosts a fundraiser for DownCity Design centered around a series of pie eating competitions. As Sheehan says, “Being a value based business means being in a place where we can promote and give back to our community in small ways, and Pi day is an obvious time to celebrate.”
This spring, The Humble Pie Company began working with Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s Food Accelerator. Working with the accelerator has helped Sheehan focus on his current growth goal for the company. “The accelerator has been a great shift in my focus from production to business,” he explains, “My strength is in production, cranking out pies, and it’s putting me in a more business-y mindset.” And working with SEG has been helpful in identifying how the numbers can align with Sheehan’s mission: opening a storefront and continuing to weave The Humble Pie Company deeper into the fabric of its community.
Ariadne Ellsworth is a junior at Brown University studying Political Theory and English. She is interning in the journalism program under Crystal Rosatti. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she has previously worked in publishing and was the Editor In Chief of the Brown Political Review. She is using this opportunity to explore the junction between journalism and social entrepreneurship.