Mike Raskin never thought he’d be a chef, and therefore starting a pie company also didn’t figure into his future plans. But ask the Berkeley native about his culinary memories, and the appreciation for pie serves as a through line. It also offers hints as to how he came to start Edith’s Pie, a popular pop-up that he intends to turn into a brick-and-mortar shop once he has everything in place.
Named after Raskin’s mother, Berkeley’s Edie Hoffman, Edith’s Pie recently marked its year anniversary, launching at the beginning of the pandemic. “My mom makes really incredible pies,” he noted. (Hoffman was director of human resources and administration at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation from 2000 to 2003.)
Recently fans have been able to pick up seasonal pies at the Alice Collective in downtown Oakland on Saturday mornings, and at Grand Coffee in San Francisco’s Mission District on Friday afternoons. Soon, they’ll also be available at Albany’s Picnic Rotisserie.
Raskin has been selling about 100 pies per week. Like most pop-ups, Edith’s Pies lists the week’s varieties on Instagram early in the week; they are available for preorder until they sell out online, with some half pies and slices available for walk-ups. Typical offerings include a savory pie, such as a vegetable quiche — “because I love the idea of pie for breakfast, but you can’t always have pie for breakfast,” Raskin said — two or three seasonal fruit pies and a custard pie in a salted graham cracker crust, such as mango passion fruit meringue or strawberry key lime pie with macerated strawberries. Recently, Raskin added frozen hand pies, such as spinach and goat cheese and spiced lamb and date.
It seems mandatory that a Bay Area pie company must source its fruits and vegetables from local farms, and Edith’s does (except for the more tropical fruits like bananas and mangos.)
The week we tried the pies, we sampled a mixed stone fruit pie, an apricot blackberry pie and caramel banana cream pie. While the entire pie is exceptional, the crusts are worthy of special mention. Fruit fillings are densely packed and not overly sweetened. Some of the fruit pies are topped with large crystals of demerara sugar, providing a sparkly sheen, and the custard pies’ graham cracker crusts are saltier than most, by design.
When Raskin was a middle-schooler growing up in Berkeley, he participated in the Edible Schoolyard program created by Alice Waters. After attending UC Santa Cruz, where he studied economic inequality and labor justice, he briefly worked in union organizing before going back to restaurant work, which he had done in college.
I love the idea of pie for breakfast, but you can’t always have pie for breakfast.
Raskin said his paternal grandmother’s seders and other family gatherings in Detroit were “the most overwhelming whirlwind of cooking and food.” As a chef — he’s worked as a butcher in Chicago and opened a restaurant in Baja, California, among other ventures — he’s always been partial to serving dishes family-style, something that comes largely from his memories of those meals, he said. They’d implore his grandmother to sit down at the table laden with food, where she’d sit for a second before insisting they needed another hot vegetable and returning to the kitchen.
“She was an incredible cook. She and her friends at her temple wrote a cookbook together of their family recipes,” he said. He was deeply offended when, years later, he learned that the flavor of her famous brisket recipe came from nothing more than onion powder, garlic powder, ketchup and soy sauce. “I grew up thinking it was this incredibly complex, all-day process.”
But throughout his life, there always seemed to be pie. During his time in Chicago, he learned that “getting pie in the Midwest was absolutely a thing.” On Fridays he’d often go out of his way to get a special of three mini slices of pie on his way to work.
Back in the Bay Area, in November 2019 he and his partner made 20 pies to sell at Thanksgiving. From that week on, he began experimenting with pie, making one new recipe each week.
And then the pandemic happened. By sheer luck, his apartment had two ovens, and he held his first pie pop-up in late April 2020. Since comfort food became such a hallmark of the pandemic, it was fortuitous timing.
In general, he said, his pie philosophy isn’t much different from many of the Bay Area’s chefs when it comes to food as a whole: “We’re surrounded by incredible produce, and I’ve always believed in ‘let the ingredients do the work,’ and pie is a great medium for that,” he said. “It’s a classic, simple food that, when done right, is much more than the sum of its parts.”
While Raskin started Edith’s Pie himself, he now has a partner. Jeffrey Wright is a hospitality professional who works as a consultant for small food businesses, helping them to expand.
“We’re on the same page about what we want to see in the hospitality world and the way we want to run a business,” said Wright.
They’d both like to see the industry take better care of its workers in “not abusing people’s labor or their time, and prioritizing people-forward practices, like developing our eventual benefits to center mental health, for example,” said Raskin. “We want to be part of the change in how the hospitality industry treats its workers.”