As Elizabeth Simon recounts her befallen tragedies over the course of this year, she can’t help but laugh. In fact, she practically howls — multiple times — when she remembers how Covid-19 lockdowns quashed her best sale day of the year, how a five-alarm fire decimated her commercial kitchen, and a deal crucial to expanding her business fell through.
It was laughable, considering how promising the year had initially looked for the Revenge Pies owner back in March. For the past few years ,Simon had been steadily selling pies, and one might’ve glimpsed slices at her former storefront, or more recently at Casements on 2351 Mission St., and at Macondray at 2209 Polk St. With accumulated profits, she hoped to partner with a co-packer bakery — a company that uses Simon’s recipes and sources ingredients, bakes and boxes pies for a fee — so Simon could ramp up production and put her pies in wholesale markets for the first time.
That, as you probably know by now, was unlikely to happen in 2020. Instead, each month, Simon faced a new calamity that forced her to rely on faithful tools for resilience: positivity and a few expletives. These led to a “pandemic pivot” featuring pie-in-a-jar concoctions to ensure covid-approved cleanliness, and a new pie delivery service addressed to the pandemic called “No Seriously, Fuck You.”
Simon shares a ferocity and grit with most entrepreneurs, but she has an extra dose of levity, traits that became obvious after she spent all day baking her first pie for a friend, who bailed on her minutes before it was done.
“If you’ve ever been stood up before, you know what I mean, and if you’ve never been stood up before, honestly you should try it. There is a moment of feeling let down by the human race and then you are faced with a decision,” her website says. “Either dwell in that feeling or do something that makes you feel better. I decided on the latter.”
What made Simon feel better? Molding a middle-finger out of extra pie dough and dropping it off to her friend’s doorstep. “Thanks for the Fuck You Pie,” her friend texted.
The story resonated with friends, and Revenge Pies was born — fit with skulls, curse words, and product titles like “Death Star.”
Fast forward to March 14, 2020, or Pi Day. It’s one of the most profitable days of the year for any pie maker because the date corresponds with 3.14 or Pi, the ratio for a circumference of any circle to its diameter. “We all rely on Thanksgiving and Pi Day to make everything work out financially,” said Simon.
In San Francisco, all the tech and finance companies typically order dozens of pies on Pi Day, but this year, as the city began to move toward a lockdown on the March 17, every last one of Simon’s orders was cancelled, she said. It cost her more than $23,000.
When everything shut down, so did Revenge Pies’s platform to sell, and Simon got denied a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Still, Simon started phasing out her commercial kitchen in the hope of moving to a larger one. And then she saw the kitchen’s building burning on the news.
The five-alarm fire on July 28 burned six buildings and required more than 150 firefighters, Mission Local reported. The kitchen space Simon used for four years was in one at 160 14th St. “We were really close with everyone who was in there,” Simon said. “To watch it burn it was surreal. We were sitting at home in disbelief.”
“Everything was just sort of the worst, you know,” Simon chuckled.
Thanksgiving promised to be different. She paid $50/hour to rent an emergency kitchen space that she shared with other chefs and caterers who were just as desperate for business and a location to cook. Things were looking up with more than 300 holiday orders and she had managed to put some of her products up on Good Eggs, a platform that buys people’s groceries from “responsibly-sourced” markets, Simon said.
Then, two days before Thanksgiving, her co-packer allegedly called with a new fee that she couldn’t afford.
Without the extra labor, resources and manpower from the co-packer, Simon taught her two uncles how to finish hundreds of pastries.
“We were up for three days straight and when I finally showed up, I was dying. I was gray. I was covered in pumpkin pie,” Simon said. “When you wonder why your baker is grumpy at 9 a.m., it’s because they’ve been up for days.”
Since not everyone could make it to pick up their pies, however, Simon ended up refunding $2,000 worth of orders. “It’s not the customers’ fault,” Simon said, who felt issuing refunds exhibited the values of Revenge Pies. And she felt the love back. “One of the wonderful things that was revealed from this whole mess: a lot of people love us.”
Thus, a GoFundMe page was launched to raise $10,000 dollars, to compensate for the extra Thanksgiving expenses.
Nevertheless, pie season ended “pretty well,” she said and, besides the humor in the gloom, Simon pointed out a few other bright spots.
She began delivering pies straight to people’s doors (just like when it all began) with the delivery service, “No Seriously, Fuck You,” which is “our clap back to the Covid-19 outdoor dining closures that have made it nearly impossible for us to bring you pies in any real way.”
Though the process is long — five hours for 20 drop-offs just in San Francisco — it was worth it. Simon was able to cap off the year with 50 pies, and between 30 and 40 slices at a Macondray and Matador Flowers on Dec. 23 for a Christmas pop-up, which normally wouldn’t happen because people are out of town, Simon said. “There were tarot cards, flowers. It was kind of nice.”
She also felt fortunate to not yet have a permanent location, a condition which has buried dozens of business owners in commercial rent bills. And, in a strange way, this year reminded her of the initial reason she launched Revenge Pies: to face a challenge head-on.
“The point is, you just have to keep going, and you can’t let anything get you down. You just have to say, ‘this is what the cards have dealt; how can we make the best of it?’ That has been from day one, [with the pie as] a joke.”
Yes, she said, the year has been terrible, but she made it out alive. And, she added, with only one negative Yelp review.
“Whom I promptly told to fuck off.”
Donate to the 160 14th St. commercial kitchen fire GoFundMe here.
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