Fast-casual growth helps pie company

Tootie Pie Company is poised for growth as two national trends – one in business and the other in popular culture – merge on the doorstep of its Tootie Pie Gourmet Cafes .

Recent industry publications have reported that while sales in most of the restaurant industry remain flat, the fast-casual segment is growing by nearly 6 percent a year; with the bakery/cafe segment claiming a large piece of that growth.

Tootie Pie Company is well positioned to tap that growth. By the end of October, the company expects to have seven of its Tootie Pie Gourmet Cafes in operation. It recently announced new locations in the high end enclaves of Austin's Westlake area; while another is slated to open in the prestigious Preston Hollow (Dallas) community, at the corner of Preston and Royal. Current Cafes include two San Antonio locations, an Austin location near the Domain in Arbor Walk, a north of Dallas-area location in Frisco, and another in the upscale vacation destination of Fredericksburg.

Despite the economic downturn, people are still flocking to fast, comfortable, quality food. Industry magazine "QSR" reported fast-casual sales grew 3.4 percent in 2010 while other sectors remained flat. In addition the number of stores has increased. The number of fast-casual venues increased 3.4 percent in 2010 compared to the top 500 chains, where there was only 0.6 percent growth, and quick service, or fast-food, chains with only 0.3 percent growth.

Among fast-casual chains, Tootie Pie has a distinct advantage: whole-pie sales. Unlike competitors such as Panera Bread, in addition to selling pie by the slice, Tootie Pie sells its award winning $35 pies to customers to go: for parties, picnics, family and business gatherings.

While a pie sold by the slice can yield $60 per pie for the Company, whole pie sales help to drive up check averages at the Cafes. A check average for a typical fast-casual restaurant is $8 to $15. Check averages at Tootie Pie cafes are $15 to $18.

Food trends in general are also poised to help propel growth at the Tootie Pie Company. "Pie is the new cupcake," according to the Foodie Press. In the past year, headlines from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Weekly to National Public Radio have anointed pie at the top of the hip dessert heap. No wonder. Pie is iconic and comforting in a chaotic and turbulent era.

A recent Yahoo Travel column names Tootie Pie's buttermilk pie, a Southern specialty, as one of "America's Most Unforgettable Pies." Tootie Pie Company was also recently featured on the Food Networks "Kid in a Candy Store" program.

Tootie Pie is an All American story. It began in the Medina, Texas, in the kitchen of Ruby Lorraine "Tootie" Feagan, who started the business in 1982 after the death of her husband, Bob. She built the company while working full time; baking pies at 3 a.m. Feagan won numerous awards for her pies, especially her famous 6-pound "Original Apple." She eventually started a bakery, and was successful for many years until she announced her retirement in 2004. In stepped current Tootie Pie president and CEO Don Merrill, who purchased the pie recipes and started the Tootie Pie Company as it exists today, headquartered in the beautiful town of Boerne.

Beyond pie quality, Tootie Pie hopes to capitalize on the latest dessert trend by creating an atmosphere of comfort. Just this week, Graybill said he visited the Austin Cafe to find it hosting a meeting of the Red Hat Society, it's members enthusiastically raving about the pie and specialty coffees. The cafes have become a popular destination for professionals, too, as people meet for business or pleasure, over a cup of coffee and slice of Tootie Pie.

"Tootie Pie has always been about sharing," Graybill said. "Our apple pie weighs 6 pounds. If you want to make lasting impression, buy one and take it to a party and share it with 10 other people. You will be a hero!"

Tootie Pie has also earned a great reputation for holiday gift giving. Pies can be picked up from any retail location to deliver to clients or employees, or shipped nationwide by ordering from our online store.

With the peak of pie season just around the corner, Tootie Pie is preparing for what it expects to be a record setting holiday season.