The Pie Factory: Sweet Goodness Key Lime Pies
The Pie Factory is a haven for enthusiasts of pies, cakes and cookies.
Just as vivacious at 71 as she was when she opened The Pie Factory in Largo nearly 20 years ago, Bobbie Barmore is passionate about sharing her love for key lime pie. She walks behind the counter, pulls out a freshly prepared pie and places a slice on a plate.
"See the pale yellow color? That is true key lime pie," Barmore explained. "Real key lime pie is not green. The green color you see in some key lime pies is from food coloring. You will never find a green key lime pie in our shop."
Today, The Pie Factory makes an average of 1,500 to 2,000 pies a week that are sold via retail, wholesale and online. There are 35 types of pies on the menu, but key lime is still Barmore's favorite. Her fondness for the sweet delicacy is understandable. Key lime pie spurred the venture that evolved into The Pie Factory and the Toucan Coffee House Café, which is a dine-in restaurant located inside of the pie shop.
The pie shop and the café evoke a Key West-themed décor, highlighted by toucan murals and images of the Florida Keys on tables and walls. It was a vacation to Key West in 1990 that hatched Barmore's foray into the pie business that she started with her partner, Marvin Pugh.
"I had never heard of key lime pie until I moved to Florida, and my I didn't like my first slice, which was green and tart," Barmore said. "Then, during a trip to Key West, I tried another slice, and this one was delicious."
Barmore was so enamored with that piece of pie that she talked to the creator, Buddy Rodriguez of Florida Key's Finest Key Lime Pie. The pie is derived from a secret recipe passed down from four generations. The key ingredient is lime juice, made from limes shipped in weekly from the West Indies. The pies are made with a graham cracker crust and topped with whipped cream.
"He (Rodriguez) said he had distributors across Florida, but he didn't have a presence in Tampa Bay," Barmore said. "Not long after that I was in the pie business."
Barmore opened a small commercial kitchen to make the key lime pies and market them to restaurants and grocery stores. Some restaurants were hesitant to give her a chance. It took three months to land her first client.
"The owner of one restaurant (The Pub in Indian Shores) doubted that we would last long just specializing in key lime pies," Barmore said with a smile. "He said that, if we were in business nine months later, he would buy from us. We were still around, and they are one of our oldest clients."
The Pie Factory is a haven for enthusiasts of pies, cakes, and cookies. A table in the center of the café, typically used for guests dining on handmade quiches and southern barbecue, is covered with holiday dessert trays of cookies, brownies and petit fours among other sweets.
Glass display cases showcase Christmas cookies in shapes of Santas, Christmas trees, bells, stockings and gingerbread men. Other cases feature the myriad of homemade pies and cakes that attract regulars and newcomers from around the Tampa Bay area.
Created by Pugh, The Pie Factory's Chocolate Thunder Cake features three types of Belgian chocolate with a chocolate fudge filling. It is a chocoholic's fantasy.
"Carrot cake was our biggest selling cake until we introduced the Chocolate Thunder," Pugh said, "Now the carrot cake is our second most popular cake."
The Pie Factory's pies and cakes are larger and heavier than what is typically found in grocery stores. Pugh said they use high-end ingredients and make pie and cake by hand.
"We looked into automation, but we have seen other places turn from homemade to automation and their quality has suffered," Pugh said. "We make 1,500 to 2,000 pies a week, and every one is homemade."
The Pie Factory's pies and cakes do not have fillers, Barmore added.
"Look at this apple pie," Barmore said, pulling out a freshly made slice. "The types you buy in the grocery store are filled with gelatin. All you see here are apples."
Customers appreciate the homemade desserts with genuine ingredients, Barmore said. Customers are willing to pay $9 to $17 for a pie or cake at The Pie Factory because of the taste.
"A few years ago, an older couple came in for the first time, and the woman bought an apple pie. On the way out, we could see the husband pointing to the wife and questioning her for spending $9 on a pie," Barmore said.
The next day, the man returned and said that he had been up in the middle of the night eating the last slice of pie. He added that his wife would be home in an hour and he had to have another pie before she got back or he would be in trouble, Barmore said.
The Pie Factory's apple pie is 10 inches around and weighs three pounds. The caramel nut apple pie is another favorite. It is made with large chunks of apples, sugar, butter, cinnamon in a flaky pastry crust covered with warm caramel and roasted walnut.
Two years ago, Pugh and Barmore debuted the All-American Apple Pie, which includes pieces of their apple, apple razberry, apple caramel nut and cinnamon apple pies. Other sampler pies are the Southern Sampler (apple, cherry, peach and blueberry) and Toucan's Sampler (key lime, peanut butter fudge swirl and Oreo bash).
The Pie Factory has built a loyal following of regular customers. There are snowbirds, Barmore said, who make their shop the first stop after they arrive in town from the airport.
Pies and cakes from The Pie Factory can be found at Surf and Turf Market and the Belleair Country Club among other spots across the Tampa area. They also offer pies through mail order via the Internet. Any pie anywhere in the United States is $50, which includes shipping.
During Thanksgiving, 90 percent of the purchases are pies, especially pumpkin and apple. At Christmas, 80 percent are pies and 20 percent are dessert trays for holiday parties.
Corporate gifts represent another revenue stream. Recently, a longtime client American Electronics II, placed an order to send tins containing eight cookies to 360 employees and clients.
"A couple days after we shipped them, we received a call from a company in Naples that received the cookies and placed an order for themselves. So did a business from Pennsylvania," Barmore said.
"Fortunately, our business grows from word of mouth recommendations, whether it is a customer who walks in our shop for the first time or someone who gets one of our pies and cakes as a gift."
Barmore is familiar with the gift business. Before The Pie Factory, she operated a gift shop in a Hilton on North Redington Beach. She added another one in a Days Inn in St. Petersburg. Eventually, she sold the shops to focus on her pie business.
Prior to the gift shops, Barmore had no background in retailing. She had spent her life as an Army colonel's wife, married to her childhood sweetheart and raising a family. Her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, and for four years he battled the disease before his death in 1986. She met Pugh two years later and they have been together since, building a new life together and pouring their hearts into pies, cakes, and other desserts like petit fours and brownies.
Barmore loves to talk about the homemade shepherd's pies and quiches at Toucan's. If you have a few minutes, she will tell you about how her shop has pies and cakes to please ever palate – from classics like apple, cherry, peach and blueberry to specialties such as Reese's Peanuttier Peanut Butter Pie, Choco Oreo Bash Pie, Chocolate Thunder Cake and Chocolate Razberry Cake. Ultimately, a conversation with her will revolve back to her favorite key lime pie.
"We don't bake our key lime pies," Barmore said. "When key lime pie was first introduced, it was not baked. The acid from the lime juice set and thickened the egg yolks. That is how we make it here, just as it was intended to be made."