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A New Dessert Shop in Town, Where the Pie's the Limit

Made with Love: Michele Albano's staff makes their dessert from scratch every morning.

Five years ago, Michele Albano’s last words to her grandmother were, “One day I’m gonna make your pies famous.” And she is doing exactly that.

Today, Albano, a Westport native, is currently the co-owner, with her fiancée Kelly Stewart, of Michele’s Pies, a three-year old, bakery in Norwalk. She will soon be opening a store in downtown Westport where Baskin Robbins had been located.

Albano has won 17 National Pie Championships in the past three years. She has appeared on Food Network on the show “Bobby Flay’s Throwdown,” as well as in his new book. Albano also has plans to publish a cookbook.

Ironically enough, she didn’t intend to have a career in baking. “After college I pursued other careers – medicine, then real estate,” Albano said.

However, she has been baking pies for as long as she can remember. It was always her favorite pastime with her grandma, who taught her the art of baking. Following the passing of her grandmother, Albano thought, “now was my time to jump on it.”

Albano started small, selling her pies to farmers markets out of a ski condo in Vermont in the summer of 2006. The pies became well-known quickly, and Albano began to sell them to residents of New York and Connecticut along with her clients in Vermont.

On television, Albano saw a show about the National Pie Championships, and in April 2007, entered for the first time.

Her Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie took first place in the nut category – an unexpected accomplishment.

Albano then was ready to expand to a larger workspace, and, with a staff of six, opened her Norwalk store in 2007. It was a tricky transition, as Albano had to practice “adjusting to volume.”

Albano’s average day went from four or five o’clock in the morning to five or seven o’clock at night during the regular season, and even later during the holidays.

As Albano said, the company “grew so fast,” that she was suddenly producing a “couple hundred pies a day.” This past Thanksgiving, Michele’s Pies sold 5,000 pecan pies.

Even with so many pies being sold, at the end of each day, Albano has leftover products, of which she donates as many as possible to charity.

Her company creates only handmade products, using solely fresh fruit and all-natural ingredients; her fruit offerings differ each season, as she gets it from farms that are as local as possible.

For instance, last Thanksgiving, Albano “used 6,000 pounds of [fresh] pumpkin,” which came from Jones Family Farm in Shelton.

This use of fresh ingredients is appreciated by Albano’s customers.

“I just think all their products are of outstanding quality. Equal to and better than what people call homemade products,” Paul Bacco said.

Bacco visits Michele’s Pies twice a week, and has been since he discovered it, a month after its opening in Norwalk.

Because of his loyalty he has the unofficial privilege of tasting Albano’s new flavors before they make it to the shelf.

His favorite pies are key lime and lemon lime blackberry in the summer, and any fruit combo pies, such as apple cranberry, in the winter.

Albano offers dozens of different flavors of pies, both sweet and savory, but “all stem off of Grandma’s recipes,” Albano said.

Albano added that she experiments with new flavors in January and February in preparation for the National Pie Championships in April, which she plans to attend again this year.

The most popular pie flavors with customers are chocolate pecan bourbon, country apple crumb, and any of the cream pies, such as chocolate cream or coconut cream.

Albano’s favorite type of pie to bake is one that uses “whatever is new to the season.”

Albano believes that Michele’s Pies will be extremely successful when it expands to Westport. “It’s a great spot to come into town,” Albano said, referencing the store’s downtown location. “In addition, Westport is definitely looking for Mom and Pop places,” Albano said.

Further, Albano is extremely excited because, “Pie is the new trend dessert for 2011,” as she said, referencing a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

The Westport store will be opening at the beginning of March. It will be similar to Michele’s Pies in Norwalk, offering not only sweet, but also savory pies, such as spinach and asparagus quiche, and ham and brie quiche, along with pastries, muffins, and eclairs.

One difference between the stores is that the Westport location, in relation to the pies, will “offer slices with ice cream,“ whereas the Norwalk location only offers whole pies without ice cream.

It will also offer a more extensive breakfast selection.

With regards to student employment, “We’ll definitely be looking for some counter help,” Albano said.

Judy Fernandez, a three-year employee of Michele’s Pies whose favorite pie is the Chocolate Cream, notes that the store is a “really fun place to work. We all help each other. In a way, it’s like family – it’s a very close-knit place to work,” Fernandez said.

Looking at Albano’s overall success, “her grandma would be really proud,” Fernandez said.

As an entrepreneur, Albano’s advice to anyone who wants to succeed, in baking or otherwise, is simple.

“If you have a dream, follow it,” Albano said.

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