For Cindy and Blake Stearns, owning Marion’s Pie Shop is a labor of love.BY Amanda Wastrom | Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer
I’d love to buy a place like this.” It was an off-handed, wistful statement that Cindy Stearns made to the cashier at Marion’s Pie Shop back in 2002 as she was buying a blueberry pie for her ailing father. It proved to be a fateful moment. The cashier happened to be the owner of the shop. He handed her his business card, probably expecting that she’d never follow up. Cindy took the card, bought the pie and left to see her father at the hospital.
Four months later, after her father’s passing, Cindy and her husband, Blake, uprooted their lives and moved back to Cape Cod from Florida, where they had been living for about 10 years. By the following summer, the Stearns had finalized negotiations to purchase the shop. Reflecting on how it all fell into place, Cindy is comforted by the thought that her father’s death led her to Marion’s. “My father led me here,” she says. “He knew how much I wanted to come home.”
Open since 1947, Marion’s Pie Shop is a Chatham institution. Along with fried clams, the Christmas Tree Shops and chowder at The Squire, it has become a repeated part of many people’s vacation experience. Drive by the shop on any summer day and you will most likely find a line out the door.
Since the Stearns took over the business, sales have quadrupled. The shop sells an average of 500 fruit pies a day in the summer, with holiday numbers reaching up into the thousands. To maintain this pace requires equal parts hard work and grit, with a hefty portion of blood, sweat and tears thrown in. “I’ve been in the restaurant business all my life,” says Blake. “This isn’t the kind of place where you can just come in the morning and leave for the day. It is a lot of work. And we live right here (at the shop).”
Dividing the baking and business management duties between the two of them, Cindy and Blake are as hands-on as it gets. Cindy is the baker (although recent physical issues have forced her to cut back on her workload) and Blake is the numbers guy. Their son, Brendan, who started working in the shop when he was 16 (he’s now 28), has been the general manager and master multi-tasker for the past three years.
“There’s a door separating the business from our life,” explains Cindy. “There were days when we would be crawling up the stairs at the end of the night, we were that physically tired. We bought a job. A hard one. But I have no regrets. This is something that Blake and I wanted to do, knowing that it would be job security for us and for our children.”
What is it about Marion’s that has residents and tourists coming in droves? “We don’t rush anything here. Everything takes time,” explains Blake. “We don’t get fancy ‘cause people don’t expect that. People who come here on vacation are used to strip mall bakeries. We are not that at all. We keep it unique and down home, scratch baking. We are not a cookie-cutter bakery.”
They still follow Marion’s original recipes of about 20 different flavors of fruit and savory pies, along with muffins and rolls. Cindy has added one new pie to the menu, “Bailey Berry,” named after the family’s German Shepherd. Loaded with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, it has become one of the shop’s signature pies. “It’s great with vanilla ice cream,” she says.
Cindy and Blake modernize where they can, keeping up with the latest food trends and the concerns of customers. “We are health conscious,” says Cindy. “We take allergies very seriously and don’t use any nut oils. We bake with a sophisticated lard designed specifically for us and we have ingredients shipped from all over the country, so we can get what we need.”
With that delicious mix of buttery crust and richly flavored fillings, a pie is the ultimate comfort food. Got a celebration? Bring a pie. An illness or hardship in the family? Bring a pie. It’s a hazy blue sky, late summer vacation, outdoor BBQ kind of day? Pie. Christmas on the Cape? Pie. The folks at Marion’s know a thing or two about the comfort that pies can bring. Stop in. They’ll have just the thing.
Marion’s Pie Shop, 2022 Main St., Chatham, 508-432-9439
Fall/winter pie flavors
Volume of pies sold
Summer = 500 to 600 a day (500 fruit)
Winter = 200 a day
Thanksgiving Day = 2,800
25 to 30 in the summer, including retail/counter and bakery
Baker starts at 5 a.m. with the daily list of fruit pies, breakfast items, rolls, savory pies, baked chickens, seafood, clams, beefsteak pies, plus phone orders and walk-ins.
Cinnamon nut rolls and muffins come out first, followed by fruit pies and savory pies.
The shop opens at 8 a.m. By noon, everything is baked and sold.