In many cases, breaking bread together was replaced by making bread for each other this past year. Quarantine has seen a meteoric rise in home baking — from people taking out time to diligently feed their sourdough starters to trying their hands at elaborate cakes. Or pies, in Gracie Santos's case. In retrospect, it makes complete sense — baking is not only therapeutic and meditative but also yields very delicious results.
Santos, who self-confessedly doesn't even have a sweet tooth, found herself baking sweet treats during quarantine.
"When Washington first went on lockdown, and I didn't have work, I started baking pies for fun because I was bored and had a lot of time. I started an Instagram account for it to show my progress, my blunders, my improvements, and my successes," said Santos, who taught herself to bake the pies with the help of the internet and a friend's crust recipe. She tested them out in a pandemic meal exchange she had started with her mom, sister and good friend.
"What I missed most during quarantine was personal connections with people, and I felt like trading food, even with contactless delivery, was a way to still connect and share food," she said. "You can share food and eat 'together' over FaceTime, and it still feels like breaking bread with someone. It was also a way to share food with my mom safely as she is at high-risk for COVID-19."
The successes began to grow in number, even outside those exchanges - and she started to trade pie with more and more family and friends who had small businesses for things she liked and wanted.
"My first trades were for plants from The Power Plant and loaves of bread from Doughbaby," said Santos. "My roommate, Kryse Martin, is the owner of KRYSE Ice Cream, so before I started actually selling Grayseas Pies, we did an ice cream and pie collaboration for KRYSE Ice Cream: Gracie's Apple Pie a la Mode, which was her vanilla bean base and my apple pie filling."
From there, the collaborations continued and work of mouth does what it tends to do when something is *awesome* - spread big time. She decided to make it official, and Grayseas Pies was in business.
"Kala Wolfe, the owner of Doughbaby, offered to collaborate at a pop up at Distant Worlds Coffeehouse in North Seattle. Rie Otsuka, the owner of Sankaku Seattle, offered me a chance to pop up with other small businesses at Marseille inside Melrose Market in Capitol Hill," she said. "It has just been snowballing since then, in the best way, and I couldn't be more grateful for the personal relationships I've been building with other small businesses in the community and for the love and support everyone has been offering me to succeed."
Just like Santos' journey, the offerings at Grayseas Pies are out-of-the-ordinary too - think savory-sweet pear, purple ube, pear-persimmon, girl scout cookie and pear-gorgonzola-walnut. If you're aren't salivating yet, picture the king of 'em all - the Elvis Presley pie, a heady concoction of vanilla custard, banana, peanut butter whipped cream AND bits of crispy bacon. We'd happily eat this for Sunday brunch. Wait, who are we kidding? We'd happily eat this any time of the day, all week long.
But while Santos' baking is, for the most park, self-taught; that doesn't mean she hasn't brought family lessons into her business.
"I love my mom's cooking," she said. "What I love about asking her how to make things is that her recipes always change. That has definitely affected my cooking and also my baking; I find that my recipes change each time I utilize them because I want it to be the best it can be that day. I grew up primarily with my dad, and so he cooked a lot for the family. He was always trying new things, and they were always good. I like trying to cook and bake new things as well. My older sister also cooked for the family when my dad wasn't able to, and she's very good at it; she's very good at being resourceful."
Her sister especially played a big role in Grayseas Pies.
"The first pie I ever baked, I call Sister Pie. My sister's favorite pie is pecan, and my favorite pie [at least, fall pie] is pumpkin, so I think maybe 4-5 years ago I made a combination of the two from scratch and called it Sister Pie," said Santos. "It turned out okay, but it was nothing to write home about. I have since spruced it up and am proud of the Sister Pie I make nowadays."
It's also important for Santos to bring her Filipino heritage to her pie-making, even if it means driving all the way to Puyallup for the perfect ube.
"I try to make my ube pie like a sweet potato pie, with chunks of ube in the filling, the way my dad likes it," she said. "And I recently found out that there is such a thing as 'real' ube, which I have been driving to Sari-Sari Store in Puyallup to get. I have also tested some iterations of kalabasa pie, which is a Filipino squash. Lorna Velasco, the owner of Sariwa Farm, gifted some kalabasa to me, which I incorporated into some seasonal pies. I’m excited to do a Filipino version of Key Lime pie with a Calamansi Lime pie, but shhhhhh it's a secret!"
While we've seen some of our favorite businesses crumble, we've also seen a promising wave of homegrown entrepreneurs who've capitalized on opportunity and redefined creativity. Santos still works at Archipelago, a Filipino-American restaurant but not in a full-time capacity, as they've been impacted by the pandemic.
"One of the many things I have learned at Archipelago is that 'the why' is always just as important as 'the what,' if not more so," she said. "I have learned to be very intentional and deliberate in what I do [...] Another huge habit that I learned from Aaron [chef-owner of Archipelago], is to WRITE DOWN THE RECIPE. I now write down all my measurements so that I can have a foundation for each pie. These lessons have helped me in running my business by inspiring me to put more thought into every action and to document my every move."
Grayseas Pies is a lot of things for Santos - an outlet of creativity, financial support and her first entrepreneurial venture during a raging pandemic, nonetheless.
"I have received a huge positive response," she said. "I think a big proponent is the photos that my friend Bryan Kang, takes of the pies. Because of him and the encouragement of other small ventures on Instagram, the business has just been growing at an unexpected rate. My roommate, Kryse Martin [...] collaborating with me on an ice cream flavor featuring my apple pie, other small businesses cheering me on and offering support, even people I don't know. "
The importance of community has been reinforced for her, and she's learned the pie business really has a life of it's own.
"I wasn't intending on turning this into a business," said Santos. "I started doing this because I wanted a way to connect with people during this pandemic; it just grew exponentially due to the positive responses, and I couldn't be more thankful."
So, what's next?
"Honestly, as long as I get to keep baking, I'm happy," she said. "This started out as something I did for fun, and I don't want it to become not fun. The pop-up world is amazing and exhilarating and is full of good people. I like collaborating with other pop-ups and other businesses that I can help promote, that I can learn from. My favorite thing about Grayseas Pies besides the actual baking is the personal connections I get to make with new friends and old. I have a couple new friends that own a small restaurant, and I am in talks with them about sharing their kitchen when they are closed, an offer and a possibility I'm extremely excited about and grateful for! I'm also looking forward to more collaborations."