Photo by Lydia Chávez

Mission Pie, the 12-year-old restaurant and bakery at Mission and 25th, deploys the clever slogan, “Eat Pie. Live Forever.”

If only.

And, alas, no one would think to offer such claims about making pie — or running a business in San Francisco.

The establishment’s co-owners, Krystin Rubin and Karen Heisler, have confirmed to Mission Local what they’d earlier disclosed to staff and some loyal customers — they are pulling the plug on their long-running joint venture come Sept. 1.

“As a business founded with some very clear values, we have reached the point where Mission Pie is not going to be economically viable into the future unless we make serious changes,” explains Hiesler. “And we’ve spent two years evaluating our options and we haven’t found anything that doesn’t either compromise our values or look like a bad business proposition.”

The purpose of Mission Pie was never as simple as making pies, selling pies, and Step 3: Profit. Rather, the goal here was to produce high-quality food from high-quality, ethically sourced ingredients, price it at a level people in the neighborhood could ostensibly afford, and treat the staff well.

There are currently 25 employees. They earn between $15.75 and $20 an hour, with tips perhaps adding $7 to that. They have health insurance. They have sick leave and paid vacations. They have a 401K with an employer match. They are paid a transit subsidy.

And there’s the rub: “We got to a point a couple of years ago that the increases in wages were still not good enough,” says Rubin. “People just couldn’t live on what Mission Pie was able to pay, even at our most ambitious.”

And, rather than compromise their principles, Rubin and Heisler have opted to scuttle the ship.

“It is possible to launch a beautiful enterprise in this time and place,” Heisler says. “But this time and place is no longer a match for this particular enterprise, with its particular goals and ambitions and values and priorities.”

Mission Pie partner Krystin Rubin, photographed here in 2010, contemplates the number of pies her shop needs to make before the start of the holidays.

The decision to shutter Mission Pie was not a cavalier one. Rubin and Heisler — a married couple — explored a number of possibilities. They considered delivery options such as Caviar or Postmates. But, as a recent Mission Local article explored, this turned out to be a transcendently unsuitable solution. Third-party delivery services often charge a 30 percent commission from the food producers, and Mission Pie, as is typical in the restaurant industry, has a profit margin of only six percent or less. What’s more, the gig workers delivering the food are, all but certainly, involved in an exploitative labor situation that violates California law and leaves state taxpayers on the hook to provide their social safety net.

So, that was right out.

They looked into a mail-based business not unlike ordering New York deli from Zabar’s. But that wouldn’t work either: Mission Pie’s products, Rubin notes, “are intended to be eaten in one or two days. We use fresh fruits. We use very little sugar and no stabilizers or preservatives.” Plus, the environmental side effects of mailing items across the country is unappealing.

So that wouldn’t work either.

Neither would pushing their products into local grocery stores. The freshness issue complicates everything and means Mission Pie certainly couldn’t participate in a buy-back of unsold goods.  

Could Mission Pie move to cheaper environs? Rubin and Heisler note that they’ve been participating in the Grand Lake farmer’s market across the bay and running into a significant number of priced-out erstwhile Mission residents. But restarting in Oakland would, in Rubin’s estimation, run between $200,000 to $500,000 — and be antithetical to a business that is, after all, called “Mission Pie.”

“We opened and grew and ran a business very much based on being right here — this location,” says Rubin. “It was a gathering place. And our kitchen here is very big. The intention was designing a good workplace. We don’t have the maximum number of tables and chairs. We seat below legal capacity.”

Karen Heisler having fun while working at Mission Pie in 2009.

Despite spending more, by design, on ingredients and staff, Rubin and Heisler claim their profit margin was on par with industry standards due to a near-fanatical devotion to running a waste-free kitchen. Rubin will only buy in-season ingredients: “We’re not tied to having certain things on the menu all the time.” They even installed solar panels on the roof to knock 25 percent off the electric bill.

Even still, it wasn’t sustainable. In recent months it became clear to Mission Pie’s founders that running their business in a manner that adhered to its founding principles in today’s San Francisco was a retail version of the Kobayashi Maru. It was a no-win scenario in which the best possible option was to concede in a dignified manner.

They do so with a bittersweet feeling toward this city — and Heisler is a third-generation San Franciscan. It’s quite the thing to make equitable treatment of your employees a founding principle of your business, and fall short, even while paying as beneficently as possible — all while watching Twitter et al. being handed a payroll tax break.

Heisler owns the building housing Mission Pie, which she bought years ago in order to bring this restaurant into being. She and Rubin live in one of its six residential units. She may rent out the ground-floor retail space. She may sell the whole building. It’s all up in the air. So much is.

“We look forward to not working in the same place as each other,” said Heisler, inducing a grin from Rubin. “That will be a novelty.”

Mission Pie’s 13th-annual community pie contest will be held on-site on Aug. 17. This will, barring unforeseen lunacy, be the last such event.

And, two weeks later, the ovens go cold.   

Pie on a Mission from Mission Local on Vimeo.

Join the Conversation

62 Comments

  1. Come to the Excelsior, we have so many empty storefronts on Mission St. You can keep your name!

    1. While there would be nothing I’d like better, respectfully, I think you’re ignoring the facts stated in the article. Why would they pay rent in another location when they own the building they’re in? Costs wouldn’t be any different down the street– it’s still SF. There would just be fewer customers.

  2. I agree with Mamiel, come to the Excelsior or the Outer Mission there are sooo many empty store fronts (and the biz name will still be accurate!)

  3. so sad to hear this. i love mission pie. will have to eat much more pie prior to you guys closing. so sad.

  4. I wrote parts of Resistance: The LGBT Fight Against Fascism here, recovered after getting tattooed by Anne Williams at Mermaid Tattoo here, eaten pie as an appetizer to a more proper lunch here, gotten crushes on waitstaff here….I’m going to miss it!

  5. You will be missed. there are lots of areas in the city that would welcome your delicious pies. 🙁

  6. I’m crying. My partner, now wife, had many lovely dates in your establishment. ? We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and will now be visiting as often as possible in the next two months.

  7. So sad, I’ll miss this place! I had so many delicious pies and meals here. I often take myself here on solo date nights and enjoy the atmosphere and food.

  8. This is so sad. Mission Pie is a gem.

    Yet once again, Joe goes out of his way to make himself an unreliable narrator. Whatever issues Mission Pie has, they have nothing to do with the Twitter tax break (which has expired anyway). If you want to point fingers, San Francisco’s minimum wage law is a much more obvious target, as there are dozens other local restaurant owners who will tell you how high labor costs have played havoc on balance sheets. Or the housing shortage, which makes housing so expensive that living on even SF’s elevated minimum wage is really tough, if not impossible.

    The point here isn’t to bash the minimum wage (which I personally support), but rather to tell an accurate and informative story about why it’s so hard for so many well-meaning local merchants to run a storefront retail business in San Francisco. Joe’s reflexive political bias and weak self-control consistently make MissionLocal a less-credible news source. Do your remaining readers a favor, Joe: Get over yourself.

    1. Neither of those are the issue. As the article says, Mission Pie already pays more than minimum wage, but it still isn’t enough for their employees to live well in the Bay Area, which is the reason they cite for closing down.

      The issue is land speculation and the lack of a land value tax or similar to discourage it. Wages that are well above the minimum wage are still not enough to live on here because landlords are able to siphon off so much of everyone’s pay.

      I agree the Twitter tax break was an irrelevant reference, but so is the minimum wage in this story.

    2. Aren’t you picking at straws? Joe mentioned Twitter’s tax break (which was unfair at best) briefly … in passing … and certainly didn’t dwell on the topic. He did mention the wages paid, focused on the business’ founding principles, and generally spoke to the challenges that the owners met in trying to run an ethical business in the current SF environment. I think he was informative, and while he did raise the specter of the growing greed within our city’s current business partners, he certainly didn’t focus overly-much on it … after all this was an article about a pie making enterprise, not an ad for Twitter, et al. Perhaps it is you who should get over her/himself? Bitter much?

    3. The twitter tax break expired just a few weeks ago. Mission Pie was open for the full duration of that tax break, yet reaped no benefits. Why should the City support tech companies and not small businesses that are models of employee treatment?

      I think a reflexive ‘you’re wrong if you mention tech’ attitude is not going to fly in SF in 2019. You either need to be thick skinned enough to be fairly hated or time for new surroundings. But given how hundreds of thousands have left the Bay Area in the last decade, perfectly correlated with unstoppable tech rise — you may find that poor attitudes towards tech are now nationwide and worldwide. I hate to say it, but big tech is making the finance creeps of yesteryear looks pretty dovish …

      1. Nah, it’s not about criticism of tech, and yeah, his reference was in passing. When the mask slips and you realize just how biased and ideological Joe can be, it undermines the authority of the rest of his work. There are plenty of insightful things Joe could have said about what why retail businesses are struggling in San Francisco in 2019, and the Chronicle just did an insightful story on that topic. Joe did no such thing here. Throwing shade at the Twitter tax break was just lazy.

        It was also irrelevant. Do you think a 1.5% payroll tax break would have made a difference for Mission Pie? Or its workers? Because that’s what Twitter got. No way. Whatever challenges Mission Pie or its workers faced, +1.5% on the margins wasn’t going to save this business.

        It sucks. I’m really going to miss Mission Pie.

        1. “When the mask slips…” Dude, get over *yourself.*

          Your repeated attempts to claim I’m editorializing here are misinformed. The antipathy toward the Twitter tax break was brought up by Ms. Rubin and Ms. Heisler, who have their concerns with this city’s business climate. Is it really such a stretch to understand why mom ‘n’ pop-type shop would resent a big business being given a tax break?

          Perhaps you should direct your lecture toward the proprietors of Mission Pie. While you’re at it, why don’t you offer them suggestions on how to bake pies? Clearly you’re a person whose opinions are of value.

          Best,

          JE

      2. 1. Great feeling for your staff that can’t afford to live in the city. How will you closing and throwing them out of work help them? Obviously, they CHOSE to work for you. You’re taking away their first choice, so they will only have less attractive choices. Congratulations.

        2. Yes, SF, that City of tolerance and love, now treats the current source of its wealth and rich tax base that funds all those social programs as some hateful influence that has to develop a “thick skin”. Well, wake up, all you social science majors that studied the cultural history of underwater basketweaving. The techies are here, the hippie burnouts from the ’60’s are dying off, and the city will change. They are not uncaring, but it will be a “tough love” — lifeline support, but mandatory treatment for the mentally ill and clean living for the drug addicts with regular testing. Don’t argue the constitutionality — it will all be voluntary. But for those who reject the voluntary path, laws will be enforced. It’s coming, and the easy availability of drugs will dry up, and drug users, even you rich ones, will have to drive the Bay Bridge to score. Eventually, you’ll move out of SF, too. SF will return to its beautiful state where nobody poops on the sidewalk.

        1. Really wild attitude you got there. Most would love to be without the tax base and instead have a thriving city again. Funny that homelessness and general dissatisfaction with the bay area has increased alongside the amazing wealth we should all be grateful for. What’s going on there? And what would we do without Twitter?

  9. I love you Mission Pie!!! So much greatness and giving back to our community. If I’d known yesterday, I’d have bought a whole pie and some. WE LOVE YOU.

  10. I sent this article and a note to Mayor Breed asking her and her staff to look into creative tax breaks for small businesses that treat their workers as employees in the way that Mission Pie does. I have no idea if she or her staff will ever see it or do anything about it, but it seems to me that the ethos re: employees that Mission Pie embraces is one that we would want to encourage across SF.

  11. “Heisler owns the building housing Mission Pie… She may sell the whole building. It’s all up in the air.”

    I love and will miss Mission Pie, but I would’ve liked to see Joe ask more questions here. Sounds like Karen and Krystin might have looked at how much they could make selling the building and decided to cash out. Unfortunately, real estate speculation makes more profit, for less work, than running a pie store and restaurant, and it will remain so as long as the city/state do not tax windfall gains from an increase in land value.

    1. Good point. It’s also seems a bit disingenuous for the owners to be complaining about their employees’ cost of living while simultaneously laying them off. Something tells me that given the choice of making $25/hr in SF vs. not having a job at all, most of their employees would choose the former. The rest of their reasoning also seem more ideological than financial.

      1. My thoughts exactly. The way they have rationalized this decision seems tenuous. Sounds to me like they’re (justifiably) tired of running a business…

    2. My thoughts exactly. They own the building and stand to make many millions selling it or renting out the bottom floor. They did the math and want a nice retirement – who can blame them?

      But their stated rationale reads as disingenuous. If they are worried about the plight of their workers, how will closing the business help them? Are their employees getting 6 month severance packages?

  12. If they’ve got such a lofty mission, what’s wrong with calling themselves Mission Pie … even in Oakland?

  13. The employees who currently work there will surely be worse off for losing their jobs.

    Maybe they could sell the building and divvy up the proceeds amongst their workers.

  14. Perhaps the income could be diversified- like by teaching other businesses on Skillshare or similar. Other people would be inspired and it’s accessible all over the world.
    We organise our holidays to America around Mission Pie . To say we’re devastated is an understatement.

  15. Maybe they can come gentrify another historically Latino neighborhood during the next recession and pretend they are doing every lower income person a service paying them the minimum wage while renting out apartments in a Fruitvale building. Fruitvale Pie sounds pretty snazzy.

  16. When the value proposition no longer fits the market reality, a business has little choice but move on, close down or face the prospect of financial ruin.

    The value proposition of the founders is uncompromising and therefore unsustainable in the gentrification climate of the Mission district and Greater San Francisco.

    They should be commended for facing the no win value proposition confronting them and then having the intelligence to act upon it in a businesslike manner.

    A business can only succeed if it is positioned in a marketplace that enables that success.

    1. Agreed, it also sounds as if the principals may be getting a little tired of being in constant proximity to each other.

  17. This is a heartbreaker! I looove Mission Pie. I always thought it was some of the cheaper pie around. Maybe raising prices? Or the Excelsior! I’d head out that way …

  18. I need further clarity to understand the economics and politics going on here…. since the building is owned by KAREN, why not collaborate with others like La Cocina; or share the space with other local business vendors who don’t own space to come in like the tamale lady who hustles from sunrise to sunset… so much talent and creativity in the raza Latinx community, we need to support. We need to make sustainable business work!! Don’t give up; bring in the talent of la cocina and keep the focus on sustainable agriculture and family business, collective business like arizmendi. Or rainbow-cooperative… another world is possible!!!
    Remember La Rondalla? I don’t even wanna go into what’s there now.
    keep the mission brown!!!

  19. Please, please, please increase your prices and stay open!! I cannot bear the thought of going without your pies. They are literally the best pies I have ever had in my life. I appreciate your struggle to stay true to your values, but maybe it’s okay to give in a few places. Like, increase the prices and add more tables and chairs? Barring that, I hope you will consider offering pie making classes before you disappear forever. I will be the first to sign up!!

  20. “We got to a point a couple of years ago that the increases in wages were still not good enough,” says Rubin. “People just couldn’t live on what Mission Pie was able to pay, even at our most ambitious.”

    People are failing to read this point above.
    Small businesses, schools and non-profits cannot afford to pay people what it costs to live near SF. Some of the best restaurants are doing hiring fairs and open houses because they can’t find workers. The tech industry has driven up prices and cost of living and as a result we are losing important industries and workers (not just pie makers but teachers!).

  21. Looks to me like another canary in the coal mine just expired. Wouldn’t it be great if some of the tech companies in the city that provide free food to their employees bought daily pies from Mission Pie? I also agree with other writers’ concerns about the future of current employees. Perhaps a savvy marketing professional reaching out to local restaurants and food servicing companies might keep this local treasure open. Unless the owners real intention is to close and find jobs away from one another, which I totally get having been in business with my partner and hating it.

  22. Wait, “We can’t pay our employees enough therefore we’ll lay them off” just doesn’t make sense.

  23. I’ve been working at mission pie for 2 years, I’m not a frequent enough reader of mission local to know if you ever allow a letters to the editor section, but I would be willing to offer my perspective as an employee if that was an option. I don’t care to engage in fights on comment boards, but I would say, everyone that works at mission pie and is losing their jobs are people capable of speaking for themselves and we aren’t upset with Karen and Krystin and trying to create that narrative is unhelpful. Mission pie has been an amazing place that’s doing it’s best to close with grace and celebrate the amazing larger community it’s been a part of and to celebrate the smaller internal community it created for all its employees. Lashing out at them with no knowledge of the food service industry and a deeper understanding of this particular business is foolish and unfair. Step back from your computer screen, take a breath, maybe get some pie, we’d love to see you.

  24. Very sad to see this one go. Another place like Chow or Aardvaark Books where you felt like you were in the fun, old San Francisco when you stepped in the door. How many of these types of places have gone? I live in the East Bay and with each of these losses there is less reason to visit San Francisco. It is becoming a big hassle for nothing. A city that once was fun with creative small enterprises like Mission Pie is almost gone. I can feel the spirit flowing away.

  25. If you have not entertained the idea of raising prices in order to cover your costs and enjoy a small profit, then you have not explored all the actions necessary to keep the doors open. I urge you to do that.

  26. Sad to see them go, but probably a main reason that they closed is changing health trends. I love pie, but I’m not going to eat it for a meal more than about once a year. All those carbs and sugar are simply not healthy for a regular meal, sadly.

    1. Have you ever been there? They have plenty of healthy fare (grain salads, vegan stew with steamed veggies, etc).

  27. Pie is impermanent. S’why it has to be baked it every day. Long before Mission Pie opened Karen expressed her love of pie and what it could represent in the wider world. Y’all don’t know’er, so don’t knock’er.

  28. What? A $29 Apple Pie place is closing? You would think enough techs and hipsters would be buying lots of overpriced pies. You can always buy delicious, cheap Claim Jumper pies at Safeway.

  29. Dear Mr Eskenazi, your book should be titled something like DISPATCHES FROM THE END OF SAN FRANCISCO and i’ve got that witchy feeling (meaning i think you should listen) that it would start a national conversation, you being FROM here and at ground zero to this system eating us all alive.

    my James here at home knew when he read this story that i’d go around screaming or have an existential crisis over the story of these women and how they tried to give love to this city a la, “ASK NOT WHAT SAN FRANCISCO CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR SAN FRANCISCO,” and the love and respect they tried to give this city back but this system incentivizes you to start not another Mission Pie, but some parasitical 30% business to extract a piece of Mission Pie.

    we’re at the extraction phase of the economy. and Joe, you’re documenting what’s happening at ground zero. how could you NOT write a story when you’re not only first on the scene but you were here long before the vivisection as some other poet puts what is happening to this city.

    people elsewhere still think this stuff is cute.

  30. I live in the East Bay, but I am sorry to see Mission Pie closing. There’s really no place like it on either side of the Bay. There’s certainly no place that combines great pie and serious social committment.

    I think people may be misunderstanding what Mission Pie is saying. They are not saying that there is no possible way to make a pie business profitable. If the raised prices, cut wages and benefits maybe it would work financially. But they don’t want to operate in that fashion. What they’re saying is we can’t run the kind of business we want to run, and make a profit.

    I do wish they’d consider Oakland, not that it’s super-cheap these days. But still cheaper than San Francisco. A number of businesses and organizations have relocated from San Francisco to Oakland. Some have done well, some not so well. I realize that they’re connected to the Mission district, but wouldn’t it be better to continue the small m mission even if the big M Mission no longer supports it. The pie eaters of the East Bay beckon you.

    1. Hello? Is anyone home? Reading comprehension, people.

      They specifically said that they own the building (no rent) and had installed solar panels to reduce the electric bill by 25%.

      Why are commenters saying, “move to Oakland”. “Come to excelsior” ???

      How would paying rent somewhere else, when they don’t pay rent now fix the problem?

  31. Their stated reasons for closing are nonsense.

    Mission Pie has been feeding $5 slices of pie to techies for 12 years now.
    If they raise the price to $7, the techies won’t object, and they will be profitable.
    It’s that simple.

  32. I call B.S. on this.

    Heisler complains about having to close her business as she can’t afford to pay the employees enough to afford to live in SF. I assume this means give them raises. She also does not want to raise prices – they are pretty damn high anyway and I imagine most of the clientele is from the tech sector who could afford $1 more a slice. Heister also owns the building and it seems like she collects rent from 5 units as well. Her “altruistic” move is to take away all of her employees jobs, and that is somehow compassionate or deserves respect. I applaud her decision regarding the platform delivery services, but it is my understanding that Heisler also was against increasing SF minimum wage. Heisler will be fine collecting rents from 5 units and her commercials space while 20+ people are out of work.

    So gimme a break, she is trying to progressive wash her decision. Most likely she is tired of running a business and would rather just collect rent and live the good, wealthy (owns the building) life. So just be honest about it – you had enough and really don’t care all that much about your employees – hope you are giving them a nice severance package – are you?

  33. I needed a pie for a party and decided to try Mission Pie this past weekend. First time customer. There was one person ahead of me in line. He kept trying to get an employee to help but they all seemed distracted. There must have been 7 or 8 standing around. They were chatting or looking at their phones, it seemed. Finally the one customer got someone’s attention. I then walked to the counter and asked the price of a pie. The answer was “all the pies are $30” — I could hardly believe it. But considering how many employees were nonchalantly standing around, it made sense. A most inefficient business catering to an elite clientele. Not what makes for successful economics. Makes sense they’re going belly up.

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