Q & A with Jack and Connie Thayer of Portage Pie
A slice of heaven in Westfield
Connie and Jack Thayer make a living making pies.
Photos by Stephen Gabris
Name: Jack Thayer
Name: Connie Thayer
Location: Portage Pie
42 N. Portage Street, Westfield;
More than twenty-five years ago, Jack Thayer’s sister decided that some scratchmade pies would be an added attraction for her summertime fruit stand. Jack’s wife, Connie, was revered in the family for her pie prowess, so she was summoned to produce up to fifty pies a week during those summer months. When Jack lost his woodworking job, the Thayers decided to turn Connie’s pasttime into a living. They invested $20,000 in an old building (a former upholstery business) and, after a year filled with of lots of elbow grease, hard work, and TLC, Portage Pie opened in June 2011 with a simple sign and a simple plan to make scrumptious pies from simple ingredients.
Two months after opening, with word of mouth promotion only, the Thayers were producing sixty pies a day. Today, 800-900 pies are rolled out per week, with customers traveling far and wide to snag a slice of heaven on a pie plate. Here’s what Connie has to say about their “little” business:
Who is a typical customer at Portage Pie?
Oh, I’d say just the average person walking down the street. We are located just off of exit 60 on the I-90, between Buffalo and Pittsburgh. We get a lot of travelers, and a lot of regulars, some who commute between the two cities and who come this far just to get a pie. We supply to a couple restaurants, but walk-ins are our biggest customer. We have been asked to cater many weddings lately. Believe it or not, people want pie at weddings now!
How many people work here?
We have five people full-time year-round, including me and Jack. During the summer months, we have three additional part-time employees.
Pies are something many people can only dream to master. What’s the secret to your success?
We make pies the way they are supposed to be made, with real ingredients in a hand-rolled crust. The crusts are made fresh every day. I start out every morning with cans of Crisco and bags of flour and salt. Hand-rolling that crust is very important to the pie.
As for the filling, we source as much fruit locally as possible. We use classic recipes from old cookbooks, and do not use any gels or artificial fillers like you find in a lot of pies: just real ingredients like fruit, sugar, corn starch, tapioca, and flour. Simple.
What are your top-selling pies?
I would say our biggest sellers are apple crumb-topped and strawberry-rhubarb. I really hesitate to even mention the strawberry glaze pie, because it’s only available one week of the year, when strawberries are at their peak, but that pie is the ultimate. When we have them, they fly out of here.
We need to know your favorite pie.
I like the mixed fruit filled with blueberries, blackberries, red raspberries, cherries, and rhubarb. Jack’s favorite is the red raspberry.
Does the menu change throughout the year?
The menu stays pretty regular with occasional additions as growing conditions permit. During the fall season we feature Concord grape and a peach and Concord grape that is out of this world! During the holidays we feature pumpkin and pecan pies.
Any advice for someone venturing out to Westfield for a visit to Portage Pie?
Give a call first if you want a specific pie. We don’t keep any inventory and we only make so many and sell out regularly, so when we’re done, we’re done. We are always busy, but would be happy to hold a pie for a customer.
Featured in the PBS documentary, A Few Good Pie Places, number one of ten best pie shops in the US!