Bakery is pie in the sky for former Oaklanders

It’s not easy to pack up after decades living and working in the Bay Area to move south of the border and take up a completely different career.

But that’s exactly what Susan Drexler Price and her husband, Phil Price, did when she retired after 30 years as a humanities teacher at Oakland’s Technical High School, and he stepped down after heading a convention and trade show organization. She’d had a bout with breast cancer, and decided it was time for a change. He was ready for the adventure.

Years before they’d chosen Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as the perfect place in which to retire.

That they ended up owning a bakery — and having it certified kosher, at that — was not in the plan. But it’s all worked out.

Phil Price and Susan Drexler Price with the kosher certificate they got for their bakery, Pie in the Sky

The couple met 25 years ago. Both were divorcees. Phil, born in Berkeley and raised in Oakland, had two children; Susan, who’d first come to the Bay Area to attend U.C. Berkeley, had three children. Four of the kids were teenagers.

The couple wondered whether their children would get along. On a whim, they and their combined brood drove down the coast to Mexico for an extended summer vacation. It worked like a charm: The kids bonded. The couple married.

“They are really close,” said Phil. “It worked better than we could have hoped.”

Of all the sites they visited that summer, everyone loved Puerto Vallarta; Susan and Phil returned to the Bay area convinced they had found the place in which to spend the next stage of their lives.

After several more trips south, they found a home. Then, in 1998, they bought a bakery.

Pie in the Sky — known for its brownies, extravagant wedding cakes and creative

art cakes — had been located in Puerto Vallarta and suburban Bucerias for more than 15 years and had established a strong following.

Neither Susan nor Phil knew much about baking, but she was eager to learn the craft, and he could take care of the business side. Equally important, the bakery staff — many of them longtime employees — were eager to help the new owners make a go of it. 

“It’s not exactly a relaxing retirement,” said Susan, “but it’s perfect for us. Neither Phil nor I could really just sit on the beach.”

Later on, Susan’s oldest son, Scott Miller, the executive chef at Oakland’s Market Hall Foods, would lend his expertise.

“Initially Scott came down a few times to help us with new recipes,” said Phil. “Now, when a new food fad takes off in the U.S., Scott helps us learn about it and introduce it down here. “

With Scott’s guidance, they’ve added sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan cakes and pies. With each addition, their customer base grew.

The couple used technology to their advantage to become kosher certified. They worked, via video, with Rabbi Zev Schwarcz of the International Kosher Council in Brooklyn, N.Y., to get dairy certification. (Although Susan’s parents were Orthodox, she said she had no idea how challenging meeting all the kosher requirements would be.)

Also, after realizing that challah was a missing ingredient for the local Jewish community, the couple added it to their menu. The Jewish community in Mexico is largely centered in Mexico City and Guadalajara, so anyone in Puerto Vallarta wanting a fresh challah for Friday night previously had been out of luck.

The first batch of 16 challahs sold. The following week, 32 were made and sold. Now, in addition to selling the bread on site, Pie in the Sky (which has two locations in the area) has added several distribution points in the area.

“Running a business has really been a challenge for me,” said Susan, “but I love it. And it’s made our family closer.”

The couple still makes a trip a year to the Bay Area to see their (now adult) children — who return the favor whenever possible.