Most bakeries don't get the kind of media attention that Lisa Ludwinski's Sister Pie does. Not every bake shop is run by a theater major, however, especially one with a knack for social media and a taste for unique flavor combinations, in spite of having no formal culinary training.
The first wave of attention came last year when Ludwinski won $50,000 in the Comerica Hatch Detroit contest. Ludwinski, who started Sister Pie in her parents' Milford kitchen around Thanksgiving 2013, used the funds to get closer to her goal of opening a brick-and-mortar pie shop in Detroit's West Village.
When she needed more of a monetary boost before the grand opening, the Kalamazoo College grad put on a dance-a-thon at Paramita Sound, a record store in West Village. After dancing for 24 hours straight (yes, she was exhausted ... and bruised) Ludwinski had raised another $25,000 and, in April, was able to open Sister Pie.
Ludwinski's star continues to rise when she was honored as one of the best in Eater's national Young Guns contest this month. She and 16 other rising culinary stars from across the country were fêted at the Viceroy Santa Monica hotel in Sant Monica, California, with champagne and loads of food.
"I was sure there had been a mistake. I really couldn't believe it," says the bespectacled Ludwinski. "I'm not like a fine-dining pastry chef. I don't do plated desserts, we're not doing anything super fancy. What we're doing is creative, it's interesting, and it's sometimes risky."
Eater Detroit editor Brenna Houck says that Ludwinski's "natural aptitude" in the kitchen and business savvy is what led Houck to nominate her for the national honor.
"Despite having relatively little formal training, Lisa Ludwinski managed to create a strong brand with an exceptional product at a young age," said Houck (Ludwinski is 31). "I think most people who've tried her baked goods can attest to the fact that her flavors are clever and delicious. I'm completely addicted to her buckwheat cookies.
"Lisa's skills and her business-mindedness made her an excellent addition to this year's Young Guns class. I was very pleased to see yet another metro Detroiter making the cut."
(In 2014, chef Garrett Lipar of the recently-closed Torino in Ferndale was named a Young Guns finalist.)
Besides nailing the Hatch contest and being a good fundraiser, Ludwinski has used the beauty of her baked goods to her advantage via social media. The Sister Pie Instagram account has more than 6,000 followers, which is, by thousands, a bigger audience than most local businesses cultivate.
Ludwinski says she likes to tell the day-to-day stories of her and Sister Pie's 10 or so employees. Besides videos of them breakdancing in the kitchen, she posts photos of pies in all states of construction, snapshots from trips to the fruit market and photos of customers. A very special customer stopped by last week for a photo opp: business mogul Sir Richard Branson. He was in town for the launch of Virgin Atlantic's new service from Detroit to London.
Sister Pie, which is housed in a former beauty shop, sells pies with bold flavors like salted maple and strawberry rhubarb lavender. They're sold by the slice ($4) or whole ($12-$28). They also bake very popular and gluten-free buckwheat chocolate chip cookies, and black pepper tarragon and honey shortbread.
Grab a savory pocket pie for lunch. One may be filled with mushroom, asparagus and goat cheese, and another stuffed with roasted broccoli and barley.
The tiny West Village bakery has some dine-in space, including one communal table and a couple smaller tables.
Ludwinski says that while she's enjoying the attention her new business is getting, she's just happy to bake stuff.
"Of course, it's not solving any major problems, but it's a little ray of sunshine that I think that pie can provide occasionally," she says. "It's lighthearted and it's something that brings a smile to someone's face, and if I can do that here, then I'm very grateful."
8066 Kercheval, Detroit
8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Fri. and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
sisterpie.com or (313) 447-5550