Any bakery owner appreciates the pinch-me moment when something happens that proves significant to the growth of your business. For Ashleigh Luna, baker and owner of Ashleigh’s Bake Shop in Kansas City, Missouri, hers came in the form of an email.
Earlier this year, a surprise message arrived in her inbox from Shake Shack, the hottest concept in the gourmet burger business, inquiring about her interest in working with them on a signature dessert for the menu of Shake Shack’s newest location in Kansas City.
“It’s a pinch-me moment,” says Luna, who opened her pie shop three years ago. “I really feel fortunate to work with them. It came together quickly.”
Shake Shack in Kansas City opened to much fanfare on Sept. 6, with hundreds of customers lining up outside the new Country Club Plaza location, eager to try the menu of tasty burgers, fries and frozen custard desserts that include the Pie Oh My concrete — a vanilla custard mixed with a slice of Ashleigh’s Bake Shop cherry pie.
There are now more than 180 Shake Shack locations around the world, since famed restaurateur Danny Meyer opened the first in 2004 in New York City’s Madison Square Park. Meyer, founder and chief executive officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, describes the Shake Shack experience as “fine casual — the new way of dining.”
Meyer has a reputation for supporting local, and every Shack Shake teams up with one local bakery for a signature frozen dessert. For Ashleigh Luna, she is thrilled and honored they chose her. She described it as a “pretty fast process.” After the original correspondence, Shake Shack managers came to sample pie flavors and chose the top four. Every few months, Luna will switch to a new flavor (starting in October, the seasonal pie flavor will be her Bourbon Pecan).
“I bake in four-pound sheet trays, and they just portion it out,” Luna says of the process that includes taking a portion of pie and mixing it gently in the top of each frozen vanilla custard. “You can taste the flakiness of the crust.”
And having tried one on opening day, I can attest to the deliciousness of this dessert.
Ashleigh’s Bake Shop continues to gain notoriety for making some of the best pies in Kansas City, having been selected as runner-up for the city’s top bake shop in a 2018 reader poll by Feast magazine. Such recognition is impressive, especially considering she works out of a tiny space that she rents inside the iconic Pryde’s Kitchen & Necessities store in old Westport. A lot of word-of-mouth advertising from a lot of very satisfied customers earned Ashleigh’s Bake Shop a stellar reputation in a short amount of time.
Just five years ago, Luna, 28, was completing her culinary degree from prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colorado, and upon returning to the Kansas City area where she grew up, took a full-time job at Pryde’s and baked sweet goods on the side. Once the 200-square-foot bakery space inside Pryde’s became available, Luna and her father, Charles, committed to opening the new pie shop.
“We are fortunate to have grown at the rate we can handle,” Ashleigh says. “We have doubled our business since last year. I like things small for now. I love being able to interact with our customers. I know a lot of them by first name.”
This fact brings us back to the beauty of an independent shop where the bakery owner actually gets to bake every day and talk to customers about what they enjoy. It’s her secret to success and likely had a lot to do with Shake Shack taking notice. The popularity of Ashleigh’s Bake Shop grew organically out of customer appreciation from true craftsmanship.
Keeping it small allows Luna to make her all-butter pie crusts with minimal handling, four dough balls at a time. She bakes an amazing raspberry rhubarb pie, along with a wide range of fruit, cream, meringue and specialty pies. Oh, and she also makes the most wonderful salted chocolate chip cookies and pecan bars.
Luna loves her work and it shows. She enjoys the camaraderie of working inside Pryde’s, which is like a Sur La Table, only local. Working in a tiny kitchen with a Blodgett convection oven that holds 16 pies at a time never phases her a bit. She is happy with the pace, for now, and looks forward to another successful fall holiday season.
“We made 250 pies last Thanksgiving,” Luna recalls. “One new thing is pie for weddings. This Oct. 20, we have five weddings. People will order 10 to 35 pies for dessert tables.”
She’s also selling more mini pies and quiches, which she offers in seven flavors including the most popular, bacon and leek. As always, she lets customers know that if they want a flavor that is not on the menu, she will do her best to accommodate their request. Being a small pie shop, Luna asks for 48 hours advance notice for pre-orders.
“We try to be flexible,” she says. “We want to do what the customer wants. Having a good product and treating people nicely is important.”