In 2010, Matthew and Lindsay Heffner explored the Arts District and liked what they saw: a bohemian enclave that felt “a lot like Brooklyn” and would perhaps be able to support a shop selling handmade baked goods. Months later, when they spotted a space on Traction Avenue that already had a kitchen — the couple couldn’t afford to outfit a bare unit — they jumped on it, and ended up opening the Pie Hole in October 2011.
Since then, local love for the company’s classic and creative pies — maple custard, matcha green tea and strawberry lavender, to name a few — has led to the formation of a mini pie empire. The Traction shop was followed by one in Pasadena and another in Orange. Last month, the team debuted the Pie Hole on Hollywood Boulevard. Katsuya, the Frolic Room and the Pantages Theater are among its neighbors in the heavily touristed area.
On a recent Friday morning, the Heffners and I chatted over lattes and breakfast hand pies. Through the windows, we watched as pedestrians stopped here and there to consider the names on the Walk of Fame stars. I couldn’t help but tell the Heffners what came to mind: that the location of their fourth store feels a little off to me. After all, most Angelenos avoid this particular part of Hollywood as they do the 405 at rush hour.
Matthew chuckled lightly and launched into a clear-headed defense. As with the Traction shop, they believe they're ahead of the trend here, posting up in a neighborhood that’s changing quickly and for the better. They are aware of the growing local coffee scene, citing Demitasse and Rubies + Diamonds as examples of stellar options nearby. They believe their own custom blend, sourced and roasted specifically for the Pie Hole by Klatch Coffee, can compete with the best of the best — so long as people come through the doors and try it, rather than going to Starbucks.
And while the team is keen on becoming residents’ go-to coffee joint, they’re also hoping to alter the way tourists see and experience Hollywood.
“We see the area becoming less about chain stores and more about Los Angeles brands,” Matthew said. “And that’s what we are. We’ve been doing this for five years. We are a part of L.A., and when people realize that, we think that will turn a switch.”
Being recognized as an iconic Los Angeles eatery isn’t easy, and neither is making pies. Lindsay, who is both co-owner and the company’s director of sales and marketing, says it’s vital that customers understand how much love, sweat and money go into their products. Without this, guests are sure to raise their eyebrows at the per-slice prices.
“People have no idea how expensive it is to make great pie,” Lindsay said. “Sure, you can get a $4 slice at a diner, but it won’t be this quality. Everything in that case, from sweet to savory, is made from scratch. And pies are very labor-intensive. If we didn’t love pie as much as we do, this company wouldn’t work.”
The Heffners keep the bar high for many reasons, but the foremost is to honor Matt’s mother, Becky Grasley. The Pie Hole is actually her dream come to life — a leap of faith after retirement. Grasley’s classic pie recipes, which have been passed down for generations, are what Matt grew up eating as a child in rural Pennsylvania. “Mom's Apple Crumble” on the Pie Hole's summer menu is one of Grasley's hits.
“This whole thing starts with Mom,” Matthew told me. “She loves pies, and as far back as I can remember, she always talked about how she’d sell them one day.”
Grasley’s retirement came at about the same time that Matthew was feeling disillusioned with his own professional trajectory. He had moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to work in makeup effects, but when that petered out, he started doing industrial design. His “hair-brained” solution was to open a pie shop. After an epic Thanksgiving — Matthew and his mother made about eight pies for a dozen eaters at Lindsay’s family’s cabin back east — the duo decided to bring their goods to the masses. Grasley emptied her retirement account and savings to help the Heffners get the ball rolling. Longtime family friend Sean Brennan also was brought onboard. At the time, he was the only one with any food-industry experience.
Though Matthew's mother still lives on the East Coast, her vision is a daily reference point for the team.
“I can’t undercut her values,” Matthew said. “I represent her feelings here, and she’s who I think of every time we look to cut costs. You can only cut back so much before you start undermining who you are and what you do.”
One way the Pie Hole keeps true to Grasley's pie-making prowess is by sourcing fresh fruit from farmers markets, or from farms no more than 60 miles away. If a taste test goes poorly, the kitchen staff will scrap their plan and start anew; that happened recently when an order of cherries arrived overly sweet.
Their flexibility often leads to fortuitous rewards. Down in Orange, the kitchen recently came up with a white peach and raspberry crumble that Lindsay calls “incredible” — and she’s tried every pie they’ve ever made. She’s also spearheaded the creation of many of the shop’s less traditional pies, including the popular Cereal Killer Cheesecake, made with a Nilla Wafer crust, Fruity Pebbles and Frosted Flakes.
“We bake 400 pies a day, but we’re keeping with the quality,” Lindsay said. “We’re not perfect, of course, but the goal is to sell a premium product and to give customers a premium experience. Building loyalty, getting people to see us as family — that’s what we want.”
6314 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 963-5174, thepieholela.com.