Rebecca Miller: Peggy Jean’s jack of all trades



COLUMBIA, MO — Rebecca Miller can do any task at Peggy Jean’s Pies. And she can do it better — and faster — than anyone in the bakery. Even so, don’t expect her to say she’s a baker.

“It’s been almost 10 years, and I still have a hard time calling myself a baker,” she said. “I mean, I could bake every pie in here blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. But I just don’t think of myself that way because I never thought being a baker was in my nature.”

Then again, becoming a licensed attorney probably wasn’t in her nature, either, but she did that, too. Now, she’s not only CEO of Peggy Jean’s Pies, but she’s also the bakery’s attorney of record.

The truth is Rebecca’s nature is doing … and doing doesn’t come with labels. That’s how she wound up rebooting Peggy Jean’s with her mom, Jeanne Plumley, the bakery’s namesake.

It’s no surprise they embarked on that together. Rebecca’s entrepreneurship is rooted in the resiliency she learned from Jeanne.

“She raised me as a single mom, but I grew up never having a doubt that we could do whatever we wanted or had to do,” Rebecca said. “It never occurred to me that there would ever be a reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t do something. My mom put in the hustle and showed me that if you want something bad enough, you just go for it. I guess I never realized how unique that was.”

That hustle mentality was not only how Jeanne started Peggy Jean’s in the first place, but it also drove her determination to encourage Rebecca toward law school.

“No one in our family had ever gone to college, and certainly no one had ever done postgraduate school,” Rebecca said. “She pushed me hard for law school, so I never wondered if I couldn’t do it or if I wouldn’t be successful. She taught me that I always had options and that there was literally nothing I couldn’t do.”

Rebecca lived comfortably as an attorney in the corporate world when her mom closed Peggy Jean’s after Peggy, the bakery’s other namesake, passed away. The original opened when Rebecca was a freshman in college, and she didn’t have a big emotional tie to it. She only saw the beauty of what her mom had built … and the following Jeanne’s pies had amassed in the college town of Columbia, MO.
So, when Jeanne started toying with the idea of reopening Peggy Jean’s, Rebecca was in. For her, it was just another option.

Rebecca has a propensity to anticipate the worst case in any scenario as a result of her legal training, but that skill is juxtaposed with her inherent fearlessness in risk-taking that comes from her upbringing.

“Honestly, I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t just be a ‘lawyer-slash-pie-baker,’” Rebecca said.
“I didn’t have business experience, and I didn’t know how to bake, but it never occurred to me that
I wouldn’t be good at it. Saying that out loud sounds pretty dumb now, but the thing is, I knew I had the ability to learn how to do those things.”

Perhaps Rebecca underestimated a lot with the reboot. But her life revolved around creating opportunities, and for Rebecca, obstacles are just something that have to be overcome.

“We had no plan when we rebooted,” she said. “We had no money to invest. One morning I said,
‘What about Kickstarter?’ I got it going the next day, and 30 days later, we hit our goal. That came from being raised by Jeanne.”

After almost a decade, Peggy Jean’s is heading toward what Rebecca calls “World Pie Domination.” With that, there are a host of things to keep her up at night: the bakery, the business, sales, the new location, if the new equipment will work or the staff is scheduled properly.

But on Thanksgiving, she rests.

“When we close the night before Thanksgiving, we’re beaten down,” she said. “So, on that holiday, we all just sit around in our comfy clothes, and we don’t even think about pie. Because the next day? Christmas is coming, and the rush starts all over again.”

Rebecca celebrates wins by living in the moment because she knows that each one is fleeting, and the next pie order is right around the corner.

“My favorite minute of the year is 11:59 p.m. on December 31,” she said. “I see the final numbers for the year, and it’s a high. Last year we saw our best numbers yet, and that moment was so sweet. But at midnight, it all resets to zero, and it’s time to set new goals.”

Then it’s back to the hustle. Although she’s juggling it all, she has a team that’s built from family, including her husband, Jason; her daughter, Ellery; her son, Hayden; and, of course, Jeanne.

Rebecca still comes in before sunrise to get the pies going, often together with Hayden. Even if she doesn’t identify as a baker, she bakes.

“She knows if she bakes, she gets to have creative freedom,” Ellery said. “She gets to be real.”

This fall, Rebecca will return to her alma mater and share her insights with law students about the benefits of using that degree to pursue a non-traditional career.

“Just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean you have to become Perry Mason,” she said. “It’s about gaining experience, and you can do that in so many different ways. It’s how you think about things and approach things.”

And that sounds like the trait of a baker.

This story has been adapted from the September |Q3 2023 Craft to Crumb mini-mag. Read the full story in the digital issue here.

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