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Using Pies as the Vessel for Important Conversations

Season 1: Episode 15


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When you create a business for the community, it’s the community that can make you successful—even when you open during a pandemic. Natasha Burton, founder and owner of Mixed Fillings Pie Shop in Jacksonville, Florida, prides herself on her customer service and connection to the local community. It’s her “brand,” combined with the delicious, uniquely named pies that sold reviewer, Natalia G., on the shop. Learn how creating a space for meaningful conversations and being accessible brought Natasha success.

On the Yelp Blog: Learn more from Natasha on how to create a relatable, accessible, and enjoyable customer experience.

NATALIA: I don’t remember it being on the website itself, but I followed her on Instagram and she would make references like “Hey, you gotta find it. It’s a little bit of a hidden gem.” So she made little notes and just following on Instagram, she made mention, so it wasn’t as hard to find it, you know? I mean, you gotta know a guy kinda for a speakeasy. So I knew a guy, by following her.

EMILY: That’s Natalia. She’s telling me about a pie speakeasy in Jacksonville, FLa. called Mixed Fillings Pie Shop. It’s as cool as it sounds, and it’s a business that was born in the pandemic. Today we’re going to talk to Natalia about her connection to the business as well as speak with owner Natasha about how her online business began and then boomed in 2020. First, let’s hear Natalia’s review.

NATALIA: Oh, my, I am all about that pie. Mixed Fillings is a gem of a pie shop. The Castanza is the best peach pie I’ve ever had. The Blurred Lines is also amazing. With that pretzel crust, it’s genius. And we also enjoyed that oatmeal style crust of the apple pie warmed with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. A true classic. The ordering process and pickup was seamless. The baker and owner is as sweet as her pies and we’ll be back for more soon.

EMILY: You know a review is good when it actually makes you hungry for the item, and in this case I want to taste one of those pies! But I’m also loving that the ordering and pick up process was seamless and that meeting owner and baker Natasha only enhanced the experience. Natasha knows that her interactions with the customers and involvement with the business is essential, so she really leans into it and it sets Mixed Fillings apart.

NATASHA:  I have actually been in customer service since I was about 15, 14 years old.  I worked at McDonalds as a teenager, I’ve worked in the hotel, the hospitality industry, I’ve worked in the finance industry, I worked in call centers, I’ve worked at Walmart, I have so much customer service experience, like it’s not even funny.

And so who cares about the pies, right? Because pies, you can buy pie at Publix, but the people are coming back to us because they just really enjoy: One – the story. They’re like, you’re crazy enough to open during a pandemic! But two, because we’re genuinely just like really nice, fun, all American, and everyday people. And like, that’s very relatable and we’re very accessible. They like that they can see us online. They can see us doing stuff on Instagram and having fun.

People really like to be able to have that type of level of customer service. And it’s not all in myself. My husband, he’s in the shop every day. I recruited him. He actually worked for Wells Fargo during the pandemic. And I couldn’t keep up. My goal originally was like 10 pies a week and it just exploded. And I had to call him one day, okay I told you we opened in May and, June I said you have to trust me, I need you to quit your job right now, come up here to the pie shop, and just help me. And he did, and his customer service is even better than mine. Like our customers, the women, they come up there really for him, they don’t come up there for me.

EMILY: Natasha recruited her husband to leave his job and help her full time at the pie shop less than two months in. She made it sound like her business booming was a complete surprise, and while sure her business plan accounted for a modest start of 10 pies a week, the growth she had did have some strategy and force behind it. Natasha owned a business making healthy food before Mixed Fillings. It was successful, but Natasha wasn’t really happy or passionate about it. After visiting her aunt in Jacksonville, Fla. and falling in love with the area, Natasha decided to move her family there and convinced her husband to let her follow her passion—making pies. She did market research and was able to show what a lucrative industry making pies really is. But, she didn’t just stop there.

NATASHA: For like the first three days, aside from the website, I walked and hit the streets. I walked house to house in Riverside and Avondale for the first three blocks of my neighborhood, I put flyers at people’s doors, I went to businesses, I spoke to the owners of the businesses, and I went to doctor’s offices. I know if I go out there and I start talking to people about pie, somebody is going to want to buy my pie. And so that’s what I did.

People realized, wait, there’s a new pie shop, it’s easy to order from them, it’s a fun experience like going to get it, they’re accessible, and there’s all these good reasons to try it. And so the word of mouth just spread. And then we ended up on the news and then we have celebrities and NFL players and all kinds of people reach out to us. And we don’t advertise at all. We just stay focused, we keep our head down focused on our product, stay focused on our customer service, and it just does the rest on its own.

EMILY : This success is a beautiful combination of incredible pies, a fun and fabulous family who makes and serves them, social media, and some hard work. Natasha pounding the pavement is the kind of grassroots marketing that some business owners don’t think they have time or effort for, but it pays off! The same is true for the social media content that Natasha creates to promote Mixed Fillings online. For Natalia, that deepens the connection.

NATALIA: At Mixed Fillings, she kind of has built a brand. She calls everybody cutie pies and you know, she’s talking to her audience. She’s not just like “Hey, look at this or look at that.” She’s having a conversation the entire time. And it’s also visual, she takes her own photos of her pies and well crafts all the images. She is so thoughtful in the names that she comes with as well as the presentation. So it just keeps me coming back and it’s just a relationship that she’s building.

EMILY: Natalia is spot on when she says that Natasha is building a brand. Natasha is a master marketer on a startup budget, but she’s also smart enough to recognize when hired help will help. Specifically when it comes to their social media, she needed someone to join the team.

NATASHA: Initially it was just myself trying to answer all the DMS, all the Facebook messages, all the emails, and all the phone calls. And literally, my eyes started twitching. I hired a social media manager named Grace, and she literally has saved my life. And so through myself being able to answer the phone, do the emails, and be face face-to-face with customers and then through having Grace answer those questions and stay engaged with our customers, we create our content together. But when it comes to customer service, people want access to you instantly nowadays, that’s why we have the Facebook messenger feature on our website. And so, I had to implement a person in the team that would be able to handle staying in contact with the customers because I can’t do it by myself.

EMILY: Natasha has had to prioritize her time and the customer touch points that are most important to her, while bringing on help to serve the needs of all customers in a timely manner. I really loved that she mentioned having a Facebook messenger feature on her website. Setting up these systems that help enable direct and constant communication has enhanced the personal touch people feel when they order from and interact with Mixed Fillings.

Shifting gears slightly, I want to talk about one of the main motivators that got Natasha into owning her own business—motherhood.

NATASHA: My kids have only known me as a momprenuer. I went to culinary school back in 2011, but my kids are 14 and 16 and so they’ve always known their mom to be out there hustling and in the streets and doing what she’s got to do to pay the rent and get food on the table.

I do it because growing up, my parents were in the military and I was always home alone. And I promised myself when I had kids, I was going to be there at three o’clock in the afternoon every day. And the only way I could do that is if I took control of my time. So I had to pivot. That’s why I say I’m a professional survivor. Cause I’m constantly finding a way to try to be there for my kids. And this is literally the only reason why I do any of the things that I do, so that I know that at three o’clock I can be there.

EMILY: And there’s something else that fuels Natasha forward.

NATASHA: This is like really important to me—to have an opportunity to show people that look like me, that no matter what type of adversity you are facing, no matter what you think you’re born into, you can overcome, you can make something successful, you can then take it back to the community, you can show people how to do it, and you can make people’s lives better.

And that’s really the main reason why I do it. I make the pie so that then we can have other conversations. Because it’s like The Golden Girls, you know, they always like when something deep happens, they get the cheesecake out. And they all sit and they have the cheesecake and then that’s the end.

The moral of the story is right. And so that’s what pie is for me. It’s that vessel that starts that conversation. We’re there to help the community to overcome the pandemic, racism, injustice, and inequality. That’s why we talk about those things on our page, because we want the community to know that. Just because I want your money for the pies… like I have kids that are in this community. My kids go to school with your kids and I want to leave this place better than I found it. That’s the way I was raised. And so that’s how I do it—through my pie.

EMILY: Pie as the vessel for these important conversations. Whether you’ve seen The Golden Girls or not, I’m sure you can picture another scene from your own life, another show, or movie where people connected over a container of ice cream or a shared meal. This commitment and connection to the community is about bettering everyone, but it’s also about representation.

NATASHA:  I had a conversation with someone the other day, and she’s a woman of color just as I am. And she said when she first met me, that she didn’t even know that black women own bakeries. I’ve had other black women come to my window and say sis, I didn’t even know that we baked like this. This is amazing! Like I’m so excited! And, in Dallas, like, I go in the kitchen, I see people that look like me all the time, you know? But then you come here to the other part of the south, and it’s not the same story. I used to be the little girl with the easy bake oven. And I need the little girl out there with the easy bake oven, that’s maybe not living in the best situation to know that she can find happiness through that thing. Like that thing that makes her feel like it’s therapy or something. That’s what baking is for me. It’s a form of therapy. And so I that’s another reason why it’s really important because nobody goes through life without some form of trauma. And, so many times we use all these different ways to try to heal ourselves and like, why do that when you can make something beautiful, then give that beautiful thing to somebody, and then you can have a really cool conversation, not even about that thing, just about anything, you know? And it’s all because like you were trying to heal yourself.

And so me, being able to tell my story of being a survivor… I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And so when children actually learn that and then they see, wow she didn’t become a drug addict, she’s not in the streets, or she’s not all these terrible things we assume are going to happen to someone who’s gone through the things I’ve gone through. That’s why it matters.

EMILY: Natasha’s story, energy, success, and drive are inspirational. She’s making massive changes in her community and her customers’ lives through baking tasty pies. But also, she’s talking to them. Starting conversations and working to be impactful as a brand. In creating this business and brand that people are so excited to engage with, reviews have been a huge part of their journey.

NATASHA: It means a lot when a person tries your product and they take the time to go onto an app or any platform and then share that. It doesn’t mean a lot because it makes us feel good. It means a lot because I’ve been able to hire people that weren’t working during the pandemic. And I’ve been able to hire those people because of the reviews that were on these platforms that said, “If you try this, it’s going to change your life. It’s amazing. I recommend you ask for the head honcho.” Things like that. Those recommendations are getting me to the point where I can start to offer insurance to my people. I opened my business in April and I wasn’t supposed to have employees until year two. I was still supposed to be suffering right now. Do you know what I’m saying? But it’s because the community is lifting us up, they’re sharing us, and they’re spreading the word. I’m dying from baking pies and having to hire more people like, please. So every review really matters. Like it makes a big difference.

EMILY: Natalia’s positivity and motivations for reviewing are similar to other guests we’ve heard on the show.

NATALIA: As far as like, keeping it positive, I try to keep it constructive and not just bash anything. When I do reviews, most of the time my reviews reflect the things I did enjoy. And I might say something constructive about like, this could use a little bit more of this, or it was missing something here, but I still try to keep it a positive and not just bash it because that could ruin it for everybody.

EMILY: I think we’ve learned though, not everyone takes that approach. We do have some negative nancies, and Mixed Fillings has had theirs as well

NATASHA: I got a one-star review once.  It’s the most hilarious thing ever. He was mad that we were pre-order only. It was during the pandemic. I didn’t have any employees. It was literally myself and my husband. And so I could only be pre-order and I couldn’t afford to hire people. It said everywhere that we were pre-ordered only. Online, it said everything. And so he wrote a review and I did respond to the review. I was not rude. I responded to the review and I told him that I didn’t feel it was fair that he was holding us to a standard that he had created and not a standard that we, as a business model, had ever set. We had explicitly said from day one that we were only pre-order and that was our service model all the way. And we actually were never going to be walk up. The only reason we offered walk-up was because of this one-star review.

EMILY: You heard her right. They now offer walk up pie by the slice because of this one-star review. Let me just say that I don’t think this is alway the answer. By no means am I suggesting that you make massive changes to your business every time you get a critical review, however in this case, it was worth sharing. Natasha decided to make a change but not just for the heck of it. She was going to make this change to have a positive impact on her business. I’ll leave you with her sharing how it’s turned into a great success!

NATASHA: I took something negative and I turned it to something positive. Because I said, you know what, people really want these walk ups. If he is willing to take the time to say, I’m going to the Better Business Bureau because you don’t give me walk up slices—I said, well, let’s do it.

And you know what? When he did that, actually, it was good because I started thinking, well, if I did that, how much money could I make? Could I make enough money to pay for a girl to work here? Could I make enough money to pay for two? And so that’s what happened. And so thank you, Mr. one-star review.

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