COLUMBIA, MO — There’s a saying around Peggy Jean’s Pies in Columbia, MO: “The secret ingredient is the matriarchy.”
This is a bakery run by three generations of women on a foundation that runs even deeper.
Long before there were two locations in this college town that’s home to the University of Missouri — before founder Jeanne Plumley and her daughter, CEO Rebecca Miller, gained reality-show notoriety on Fox’s “Crime Scene Kitchen” — even before the bakery ever had a sign on the door — a matriarch was making a pie in a farmhouse kitchen near the Missouri Bootheel.
“This was my mom’s pie crust recipe,” Jeanne said. “If she could see us now, she’d just be tickled.”
Growing up in a farming family, Jeanne watched her mom make pies every day. And eventually, it’s what she did, too, sometimes just baking the crust, breaking it up and calling it “crackers.”
It was the early ’90s when Jeanne decided she’d had enough with working unfulfilling desk jobs. So, she and her best friend Peggy hatched a plan: Sell the pies Jeanne had been baking all her life.
First, they had to gauge if it was a viable market because in those days, pies were only found in restaurants and grocery stores. So, they opened the white pages and started making cold calls.
“We just called random people and asked if they liked pie, where they bought their pie, and would they buy it if there was a pie shop in town,” Jeanne said. “Whenever a man answered, we couldn’t get him off the phone because all he wanted to talk about was his mom’s pie and how good it was — and how he couldn’t buy anything that good anywhere.”
With $800 in the bank and a supply haul from Walmart, the gal pals — Jeanne, a single mom, and Peggy, old enough to be Jeanne’s mom — embarked on a new adventure. They started Peggy Jean’s Pies in a windowless, 100-sq.-ft. commercial kitchen in a strip mall behind a gun shop. There was nowhere to hang a sign, but the rent was cheap, and the lease was month-to-month, making it a great little place to get started. However, it didn’t take long for the bakery to become a successful business in downtown Columbia.
In the early 2000s, just as the bakery had become a staple in town, Peggy became ill, and Jeanne made the tough choice to close the doors before Peggy passed away the following year.
After that, Peggy Jean’s lived only in the stories Jeanne shared with Rebecca and that Rebecca shared with her daughter, Ellery.
Life, as they say, went on. Rebecca practiced law, and her husband, Jason, also worked in corporate America, while Jeanne enjoyed retirement at the lake.
“We were like ‘normal’ people for 10 years,” Rebecca said. “We didn’t even make pies anymore.”
But baking and entrepreneurialism are in the Plumley DNA, and it was only a matter of time.
“We were always coming up with ideas,” Jeanne recalled. “We had more ideas than Heinz has pickles.”
And those ideas somehow came back to pie. In 2013, Jeanne and Rebecca reopened Peggy Jean’s Pies, and Rebecca walked away from her corporate career, following her mom toward a calling she never knew she could hear.
At first, they only made a few pies a day and sold them out of an old ’50s refrigerator. But like the original Peggy Jean’s, it didn’t take long for business to take off. Today, the bakery has a staff of 24 and makes 500 pies a day — on average roughly 250 per location — for inventory and custom orders. And they make exponentially more during fourth quarter “pie season” and other holidays like Easter and the Fourth of July.
The name’s the same, as are the pies — still made with the recipes passed down through the matriarchy — but the dynamic has a style and energy all its own. Peggy Jean’s is now a family affair.
This story has been adapted from the September | Q3 2023 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.