When Wanda Beaver decided to open a pie shop, she insisted on two components in the hunt for the perfect spot for her “Pie in the Sky”: the facilities to produce enough pies for wholesale and a retail space to allow her to set up a sit-down café. She found the perfect home in Kensington Market at the corner of Augusta Street and Oxford Avenue.
“You have everybody in the market; there’s students, there’s residents, there’s a lot of businesses. The hospital nearby has 3,000 employees. There’s a lot of retirement homes and condos, lots of tourists,” she says.
“[Kensington Market] is not just somewhere you go to shop … It’s a place you go for the experience.”
Finding a niche
To celebrate Pi Day (March 14 or 3/14), Wanda and her team produce a batch of square pies. This may sound strange at first; the number π is probably best known for its application in solving the area of a circle using the formula πr². Wanda’s take on the formula? The standard “Pi R Squared” became “Our Pies Are Squared.”
While those who formally observe Pi Day might represent a small slice of clientele, one thing is certain: Wanda is Toronto’s pie specialist, catering to every whim of Toronto’s pie enthusiast community.
When it comes to marketing, Wanda is totally old-school. She’s far more concerned with the quality of the product than anything else, and she counts on word of mouth and a little media coverage to take care of the rest. Last year, her Pi Day pies got her coverage from Global Television and the Toronto Star.
The development of Kensington is a beast unto itself; while higher-end lofts have snuck into the mix, the Market’s residents and business owners have been successful in keeping out corporate interests, such as overpriced chain cafés. For Wanda, it’s a matter of keeping the ongoing change in the community in check, with a focus on the Market’s pedestrian heritage.
“Our Business Improvement Association is working towards more street [closures] on Sundays,” she explains. “Some of it is for a festival kind of thing, with bands and circus acts, but we don’t want things to get out of hand either, because the residents wouldn’t want that. So it’s a balancing act. Certainly we want more people to come to the market.”
Too many cafés?
While selling pie is how Wanda’s eponymous shop made its name, there’s a lot more going on in “the Sky.” To the left of the pie display is a table with Wanda’s official cookbook; on the other side sit a number of tasty-looking vegetarian savouries, including quiches, lasagna, and sandwiches. As with her pies, Wanda takes great pride in the quality of her coffee. Her café features local artisan-roasted coffee that’s fully organic and made from fair trade beans. It’s this café–storefront presence that Wanda wants.
A recent article in The Grid claimed that in the past four years, over 100 new cafés have opened their doors in downtown Toronto. The rise of the so-called “barista café” raises the question: how many is too many? Despite the rise of this café culture cannibalism, Wanda is optimistic.
“I can’t think of a café that’s closed its doors if the quality’s been there,” she says. “The emphasis, I think, is more on independent coffee shops with fair trade that sell organic products and use small-batch roasters.
“If you’ve got a good quality product, you can survive.”
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is located at 287 Augusta Ave. and is open daily from 8 to 8.