People Issue

Megan Wilkes and Mary Sparks Have Made a Life of Pie, and Oak Cliff Thanks Them

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

There's a delicate choreography in the way they move through the cramped kitchen in the back of a Victorian bungalow on Bishop Avenue. An employee bearing an armload of fresh eggs weaves around another peeling apples, and then another mixing tubs of fluffy lemon chiffon. By the end of the day, it'll all be gone, consumed by this diminutive but well-oiled pie-from-scratch-making machine in the Bishop Arts District.

"We make everything fresh, so there's not a lot of waste," says 26-year-old Megan Wilkes (above left), who, along with Mary Sparks, 25, is the young maven of baked goods at Emporium Pies.

If you've ever tasted the "Smooth Operator" -- French silk chocolate filling and a salty pretzel crust -- you might be surprised to learn neither had ever actually baked a pie as the concept of Emporium took shape. They were both fresh out of college. Sparks could bake a mean wedding cake, and Wilkes had a mind for business. So they teamed up and bought an oven Sparks once used when she worked at a bakery in Tyler. Eventually they set up shop in the catbird seat on Bishop, ideally positioned to snag strolling diners.

They were cautiously optimistic at first. Maybe they'd sell 50 slices on Friday. On a good Saturday, perhaps 100. They couldn't have been more wrong. These days, they're selling 2,500 slices a weekend. And nothing could have prepared them for the Thanksgiving onslaught: They baked through the day and night until they could bake no more, and collapsed onto an air mattress in shifts.

"This year we're hoping to not sleep on an air mattress," Sparks says.

They say they want to grow the business and find additional kitchen space to meet demand that's currently outstripping their ability to churn out the "Drunken Nut" (bourbon pecan with a shortbread crust) and "Lord of the Pies" (deep dish apple and cinnamon streusel), to name a couple. Take heart, Dallas. In Sparks and Wilkes, the entrepreneurial spirit is youthful and alive and delicious.

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Brantley Hargrove