Sweet Pea’s Succeeds with Small-Town Pie Shop

Sweet Pea’s founder Rachel Smith shares how she pivoted her wholesale homemade pie business into flourishing a retail treat shop and baking facility in Mayville, Wisconsin.

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #104, Brad interviews Rachel Smith, founder of Sweet Pea’s, a made-from-scratch treat shop in downtown Mayville, Wisconsin. Along with baking pies and other goodies onsite for its retail store, Sweet Pea’s has a growing wholesale business, an e-commerce site, and fundraiser partnerships.

Rachel aka “Sweet Pea” started baking with her grandmothers as a child and envisioned owning a unique bakery someday. Back in 2009, while still living in Minnesota, she started doing take-and-bake pies and selling them at a local meat market, quickly turning it into a pie destination. As business boomed, her husband helped bake, and they’d pull in extra hands during busy seasons. They also set up a rudimentary website for online orders.

Through the next decade, Rachel and her husband grew the business slowly. With full-time jobs and busy family life, they felt no pressure to move faster. Instead, they took advantage of what Rachel calls “a very long market research period,” which prepared them for their big move to Wisconsin and the next iteration of their business.

Almost two years ago, the Smiths bought an old building in downtown Mayville, initially planning to renovate it into a manufacturing facility for wholesale. But upon learning the locals loved the historic site and wanted to come inside, “we realized we’d get the support of the community if we heard their request for retail,” Rachel explains. “That was the first of many changes to our business model.”

Since renovating to retail standards would require more money, the Smiths connected with the University of Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Center, which led them to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for a Community Development Investment (CDI) Grant. They also secured financing from the city, plus a community-funded Kiva loan, and several townspeople donated their time and skills to the renovation.

Sweet Pea’s started manufacturing in Mayville in July 2020 and opened the retail shop two months later. During this time, Rachel was also still producing pies in Minnesota, earning her MBA, and had “stumbled upon fundraisers” as another revenue stream. She also participated in FFI’s Scenario Planning workshop, which helped her see her next smartest move: professionalizing Sweet Pea’s online presence and ordering platform.

Brad and Rachel discuss the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, including the importance of knowing and honoring your talents rather than trying to be everything to everyone. That said, Rachel always stays abreast of market trends and aims to deliver the flavors and formats customers crave. They also touch on the value of having a strong financing team and supportive bank that understands the food space.

As part of her master’s coursework, Rachel is currently evaluating whether the fundraiser channel makes financial sense. Meanwhile, Sweet Pea’s continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic and labor constraints, having just gotten accepted to UW’s work-study program. Moving forward, Sweet Pea’s will refine its business model, establish its wholesale capacity and determine how it wants to grow, whether by pitching to more grocery stores or opening more locations—or both. Regardless, Rachel is excited to create jobs locally, foster skills development, and empower others to do this fulfilling work.