Emporium Pies is not for health nuts. Nestled between a barbeque joint and a dive bar in Dallas’s Deep Ellum District, this quirky pie shop is a decadent haven for post-dinner desserts or late night shenanigans. With its dichotomous blend of classic and modernity, Emporium Pies thoroughly encapsulates the fusionism aspect of American food and exemplifies the traditional gender roles that exist within the American food industry.
Despite its tremendous success, Emporium Pies still plays into the gender roles governed by America’s food industry. Christine Huang’s notion that a “disproportionate number of women end up as pastry chefs” is reaffirmed in the case of Emporium Pies, as the eclectic pie shop was founded by two female Southern Methodist University graduates in early 2011.[i] In fact, much of the publicity surrounding Emporium Pies highlights the pie shop as a fun and quirky bakeshop founded by two women rather than a cutting-edge establishment in the food industry. Thus, it is evident that the American food industry places female chefs in a different sphere than their male counterparts.
Moreover, the layout of the pie shop propagates the existing gender roles. The store creates a dainty, comforting environment that eases the diner into the shop as though he is eating a homemade slice of pie in mom’s kitchen and not at a sophisticated restaurant. Set inside an industrial building, Emporium Pies holds attributes of Grandma’s kitchen, with cream wooden tables and delicate photos of flowers posed on deep, red brick walls. The area behind the ordering counter is a true Southern kitchen: off-white cabinets, a teakwood island brimming with pies, and shelves filled with fresh daisies and floral china. As such, it is apparent that the owners of the shop constructed an establishment that focuses more on the homey aspect surrounding eating. From the ambiance of the shop, it is furthered that Emporium Pies markets itself as a traditional pie shop and exemplifies the structured gender roles that exist in American food culture.
In addition, the marketing strategy behind Emporium Pies falls under the gender roles constructed in the American food industry. In numerous interviews, the owners have emphasized that the inspiration and success behind the pies can be attributed to the recipes passed down from the women in their families.[ii] This justification induces the simplification of their success by, as Charlotte Druckman discuses, simply generalizing that “women cook from their hearts” and use their “roots” as a source of inspiration rather than the “brain[s]” that men seem to have for being truly adept in the kitchen. The marketing strategy of the company presumes this “deficiency” in the owners’ ability to create remarkable food and denounces any success from being entirely individual.[iii] Moreover, it limits the threat of women’s success in the food industry, as their achievements are relegated to the pastry sector and their innovation and talent is nothing more than simply following family recipes. Ergo, it is clear that, despite Emporium Pies’s massive success, the pie company plays into the long-constructed gender roles in the American food industry.
Essentially, Emporium Pies capitalizes on the existing gender roles in America’s food industry in a way that allows it to accrue great success while consequently limiting itself in the culinary world. Subsequently, it’s evident that as Sarah Zorn urged, perhaps we need to be the ones who unearth these “untapped stories” about incredible female chefs and neutralize the American food industry rather than simply idealizing the gendered expectations that currently exist.[iv]
The existing gender roles at Emporium Pies only contribute to one facet of the Americanism of the establishment; after sampling several pies, I found its fusion of traditional and modern flavors to further the American characteristic of the pie shop. The moment I set foot in Emporium Pies, my five senses were invaded. After listening to recommendations from the cashier, I chose three different pies: Lord of the Pies, the Smooth Operator, and Dr. Love. The first two pies were Emporium Pies’s renditions of the classic apple and chocolate pies, respectively, while Dr. Love was a unique concept of a red velvet pie.
After waiting for Lord of the Pies to be warmed, the desserts were served on intricate plates with designs ranging from Texas bluebonnets to gold-edged detailing. The aromas of cinnamon apples, gooey caramel, and rich chocolate invaded my nostrils, and I salivated with unconstrained anticipation. Eagerly, I began with the Lord of the Pies. The classic apple pie was jazzed up with ribbons of caramel lacing throughout the filling and a cinnamon streusel garnishing the top. With the first bite, my tongue found a mild flavor of lightly sweetened Granny Smith apples and airy, flaky crust. The subtle sweetness of the pie brought back fond memories of hot summers in Texas. I found the pie to represent the traditional aspect of American food, with its simple presentation and ubiquitous interpretation of being the classic American dessert. The Lord of the Pies exemplified American food because of the preconceived sense of nationalism that is associated with apple pie.
I moved on to the Smooth Operator and took sight of its flawlessly creamy top and ornate pretzel crust. The first taste of this chocolate concoction had my taste buds exploding with delight. Deep, rich chocolate accompanied by a velvety texture and the crunch of an exquisite pretzel-graham cracker crust left my mouth watering for more. The chilled pie melted on my tongue, and notes of vanilla and bourbon lingered with each bite. The Smooth Operator was potent in its sweetness, and each morsel had me reminiscing chocolate pies from my youth. Emporium Pies artfully crafted a classic pie that left me simultaneously yearning for more while dreading the end. The pie was both quite simple and incredibly detailed; like the Lord of the Pies, my association of a chocolate pie with Americanism and the American identity left me with the impression that the pie exemplified American food.
Finally, I readied myself for the grande finale, Dr. Love. This pie was a true visual masterpiece. Its magenta-auburn hues glistened with a glass layer of candied sugar on top. The swirling galaxy colors gave way to an interior that appeared both dense and feather light, and the contrast with the pale golden buttermilk crust made the pie appear both decadent and comforting. I bit into the pie and was rewarded with a delightful crunch of sugar coating and a smooth cocoa filling. Hints of tartness from the cream cheese cut through the intensely sweet filling and prevented the chocolate center from overpowering the crust. Emporium Pies introduced the aspect of fusionism in American food with Dr. Love; it represented how the American food culture is innovative and risk-taking and incorporated different flavors and styles to refurbish traditional concepts.
After finishing my pie sampler, I was certain that Emporium Pies represented American food. To start, the establishment strictly serves pies: a dessert that somehow adopted the notion of being incredibly ‘American’. The pie shop crafted desserts that were both traditionally associated with American pride and completely singular with unique flavors. The consistency of traditional values to the core are threaded within the workings of each of Emporium Pies’s renditions of the classically popular American pies. Moreover, the innovation nature of the pies, from quirky names like Lord of the Pies to unique textures and flavors like red velvet, furthers the notion that Emporium Pies represents American food by blending classic and originality.
A final thread of the fusionism in American food and culture could be found through the diverse customers at Emporium Pies. Found in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district, Emporium Pies is enclosed in an area surrounded by industrial warehouses, artistic graffiti, and both trendy and long-established Southern restaurants. As such, the pie shop brings together an eclectic mix of clientele ranging from yuppies to working-class individuals. Fundamentally, Emporium Pies epitomizes American food because it fosters an environment that seamlessly melds tradition and modernity and acts as a melting pot by creating a warm environment where individuals of all backgrounds can come together to kick back and enjoy a sweet slice of pie.
‘Fine pies for fine folks.’ Emporium Pies’s melodic motto captures its simplistic and innovative nature and shows why the shop represents American food. The bakeshop’s creative twist on traditional concepts represents the fusion melting pot that is American cuisine, while leaving me aware of the gender roles that still exist in the American food industry. The delightful little shop in the heart of Deep Ellum truly encapsulates American food, and I left in a blissed out food coma dreaming of future pies to come.
[i] Huang, Christine. “Queer in the Kitchen: Gender Politics Take Center Stage.” Civil Eats, 31
Oct. 2017, civileats.com/2017/10/24/queer-in-the-kitchen-gender-politics-take-front-stage/.
[ii] Hargrove, Brantley. “Megan Wilkes and Mary Sparks Have Made a Life of Pie, and Oak Cliff
Thanks Them.” Dallas Observer, 20 May 2016, www.dallasobserver.com/restaurants/megan-wilkes-and-mary-sparks-have-made-a-life-of-pie-and-oak-cliff-thanks-them-7041010.
[iii] Druckman, Charlotte. “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?” Gastronomica, vol. 10, no.
1, 2010, pp. 24–31., doi:10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.24.
[iv] Zorn, Sarah. “Food Media Is Dominated by Women. So Why Aren’t We Writing About
Female Chefs?” Esquire, Esquire, 29 Nov. 2017, www.esquire.com/food-drink/a13944998/how-food-media-should-better-cover-female-chefs/.
Image Credit: Scott Bauer “Mmm…Apple Pie” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Pie#/media/File:Motherhood_and_apple_pie.jpg