Dave Tuttle has a passion for pie. "Let's face it. Pie is wonderful stuff,” he says. “It makes people feel great.” And it would be hard for anyone to argue that point, after seeing and smelling one of his signature double crusted fruit pies as it emerges, hot and steaming, from the oven.
But Tuttle's passion grew more out of necessity than culinary curiosity. After a 20-year career in film and television, Tuttle found himself unemployed in 2008 during the height of the recession, as the industry was shedding jobs.
"For about a year, I really made it full time to try to find a job, to get back into the business because that's what I had known for 20 years," Tuttle says. But after that year, there was still no job, and even less savings. It was time to try something new.
The idea for that "something” came at a dinner party where, instead of wine, Tuttle had brought a homemade pie. "We're sitting around with friends," Tuttle recalls, "and they said, you know Dave, you really should start to sell these pies. And my wife's like – 'yes, you need to do something!'," he laughs. "And I said okay, that's cool...maybe I'll try it.”
Tuttle grew up in Croton on Hudson, New York – the same small village about 30 miles north of Manhattan where he and his family live today. His community ties helped him kick off the business with a "beta group" of pie tasters, who would place orders and give feedback.
He named his business "Tuttle's Homemade."
As word spread, his pies started ending up on dinner tables all over town, and turned Tuttle into something of a local celebrity. "The email blast would extend and extend out further, to the point where I was making 50 to 75 pies a week out of my apartment,” he says.
When he could no longer accommodate his growing business at home- "I was driving my wife crazy and the kids couldn’t go into the kitchen" – he made bartering arrangements with local restaurants – trading pies for kitchen space.
During a recent visit, the flour was flying as Tuttle darted around the back kitchen of Grouchy Gabe's Grill – busy making not only his signature apple pies, but also pear tarts and chicken pot pies. It's labor intensive work, and Tuttle approaches every stage in the process with precision and care.
Flour, shortening and water are combined in a special way to yield the perfect crust – the key to pie greatness. (Yes – notes were taken). He uses only fruit that's in season. For his apple pie, no less than three varieties of apples are used, all from local Hudson Valley orchards. The pies bake in gas ovens and are turned regularly, creating just the right amount of browning.
A 2010 New York Times review said "few can turn out a pie like Mr. Tuttle,” calling his crust “light but substantial” and the fillings “fresh and true."
He sells the pies for $15 at local restaurants and farmers markets, but still hand delivers up to 200 pies a month. He'd like to take his business to the next level, and has his eye on a local building for sale that could accommodate a pie shop. "I could definitely see Tuttle's Homemade right there," he says – pointing to the storefront of what's now a deli. "I'm ready to go to the next stop, but it's a big step," he says.
That step may be more like a leap, since his months of unemployment hurt his credit score and , though demand for small business loans it up overall , lending is still tight. Tuttle says he and other entrepreneurs can help the economic recovery, if allowed to expand and hire employees.
"I was really hoping that this recession was going to show both the banks and our government that there's an opportunity here for people like myself who reinvented myself to start new businesses, but they’re going to need some help," he says.
While he hopes someday to exceed his pre-recession salary, Tuttle says the experience has helped him realize there’s more to life than a paycheck. "Now it's more about family, it's about being connected back to my community, it's about the simpler things of pleasing someone, making someone happy,” he says. "What I was doing before was great, and it was very satisfying and I loved it. But it wasn't as real as what I'm doing now."