It’s news that’s sweet as pie — literally.
Greenbank Farm’s Whidbey Pies & Cafe was selected as Washington state’s top pie location in an online USA Today list titled “Some of the most delicious places for pie in all 50 states.”
“It’s Washington state, so you’ll probably want to sample the salted caramel or Granny Smith apple, but the marionberry, loganberry and other fruity varieties are so good, you should definitely go with friends,” the author wrote. “Dog-friendly with some lovely outdoor seating, this is a sweet way to experience the town of Greenbank, literally and figuratively.”
Cafe owners Joe and Jessie Gunn said they were surprised and humbled to be named on the list by USA Today.
“I’ve always felt that we have a fantastic pie,” Joe said.
“We’re super excited to be recognized on a national scale,” Jessie said. “We’re also grateful to be a part of this community and serving locals and visitors alike … we’re hoping (the list) will bring more visitors to the island and contribute to the farm in general.”
The husband and wife duo formally purchased Whidbey Pie in 2016, but Joe has worked in the business much longer than that. His mother, Jan Gunn, originally owned the business, started in 1986 under the name “Whidbey Fish.” There, she served smoked salmon, crab cakes, chowder and loganberry pies.
Eventually, she closed that shop in 1996, but still sold pies wholesale. She reopened in the early 2000s as Whidbey Pies, Joe said.
“I grew up in the company,” Joe said. “I was helping my mom bake pies at age 10. I remember her in the kitchen saying ‘this could all be yours one day,’ and I never wanted it.”
But his mind changed. Joe and Jessie were living in New York City when Jan put the business up for sale.
Life in New York was just too hectic and expensive, Joe said, so returning to Whidbey Island was a way to settle down and raise their now-10-month-old daughter, Margot.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Joe said.
In New York, he was nicknamed the “pie prince of New York,” Joe said.
“Because I was extremely snobby about pies,” he said with a laugh.
The little Greenbank cafe now churns out thousands of pies each year.
“We make about 75,000 pies a year,” Joe said. “That’s 15,000 in the cafe and the rest are sold in markets from Bellingham to Tacoma.”
What makes the Greenbank Cafe stand out are the various flavors of pie as well as a symbiotic relationship with the community.
“We’re not investing in production lines and conveyor belts,” he said. “We’re investing in our local community and the hard working men and women of Whidbey Pies.”
“We put a lot of love in our product and it shows.”
What are their favorite pies that they make? For Joe, it’s the loganberry, and for Jessie, she prefers cherry.
The loganberry, a raspberry-like fruit, is a legacy of the Greenbank farm, which once was the largest loganberry farm in the United States — possibly the world, according to the cafe’s website.
Whidbey Pies, open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., sells more than just pies. Also on the menu are seafood chowder, salads and grilled sandwiches.
For the thirsty, there are multiple coffee options, ice cream floats and hot cocoa.
The outside of a cafe looks like a typical red barn with white windows, surrounded by a white picket fence and a well-maintained garden and outdoor seating. The inside has a relaxed, cozy feel and a wooden rustic theme. And the smells are enough to make your mouth water before even ordering any food.
On the walls, Jan’s original, handwritten recipes for her pies and sauces are framed ceremoniously, complete with food-stains and tatted edges from years of loving use.
Joe isn’t exactly worried about anyone co-opting their baking secrets — they can go ahead and try, but “our pies are not easy to make,” he said.
Joe credits his staff with helping make Whidbey Pies a success, along with their superior and locally-sourced ingredients.
Not everyone is cut out for the gruelling work it takes to cook for 10 hours straight and lift heavy trays.
“This is not your grandmother’s pie-baking. It’s very hard work and it takes very dedicated and hard-working individuals,” he said.
“We have people who start here and leave after one day because it’s just not what they thought. You’re lifting 50 pound stacks of flour, pushing 300-pound trays of pies, mixing frozen fruit by hand.”
Their plans for the future are to continue growing sustainably without losing attention to detail and quality of food, Joe said.
Workers Jordan Henriot and Dani Moffitt were pleased to hear that their place of employment is getting some national recognition.
“It’s about time,” Moffitt said.