Sophie Bolich

Mr. Dye’s Pies Opens 3rd Street Market Hall Stand

Key lime, sweet potato, pecan pies and more available at bakery's new location.

By - Jan 26th, 2023 06:34 pm
Mr. Dye's Pies at 3rd Street Market, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. Photo taken Jan. 26, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

Mr. Dye’s Pies at 3rd Street Market, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. Photo taken Jan. 26, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

If you can sell someone a mutual fund, you can easily sell them a pecan pie. At least, that’s what Johnathan Dye tells himself.

The investment-salesman-turned-bakery-owner has spent the past decade building a loyal following for his business, Mr. Dye’s Pies. And after enduring a trying two-year spell, he’s back up and running at its new location inside 3rd Street Market Hall, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Like many small businesses, Dye’s Pies missed out on farmers market sales during the pandemic. To stay afloat, Dye started selling Irish sea moss gel and elderberry syrup while leaning on pie deliveries, but the business took another hit about a year ago, when the building that housed his commercial kitchen space was sold to a new owner that tripled the rent.

Dye briefly relocated to a commercial kitchen at 8103 W. Tower Ave., but was again forced to leave in August, at which point he decided to take a step back, closing down the business for five months.

Now happily settled in his new space, Dye said he is glad to have landed on his feet, despite the hurdles he’s faced.

“It’s kind of tricky to find the right place that’s a good fit and that’ll give us room to grow,” he said. “But I think we found that here with 3rd Street Market. We’re off to a great start. There’s lots to do, lots to figure out. I’m excited about the environment.”

From sideline to star baker

While growing up in Milwaukee, Dye spent many a day in his grandma Virginia’s kitchen. First as an engaged observer and later as a sous chef.

“I grew up in the kitchen. And if you’re in the kitchen for too long, eventually they’re going to put you to work,” he said. “After a while, I was chopping onions and sifting flour and, you know, making the magic happen. Or at least doing my part to make it easy on grandma.”

By the time he was 15, Dye was crafting entire meals from scratch. Despite his early love of cooking, the idea of starting a pie business didn’t occur to him until years later.

During a visit to the Florida Keys, Dye sampled a slice of the namesake pie and was blown away by the flavor.

“I thought I liked key lime pie just fine,” he said. “And then I got a piece of this thing, and I was like ‘wow, this is awesome.'”

At the time, he said, key lime pie was hard to come by back in Milwaukee. He decided then and there that if he ever started a pie business, key lime would be on the menu.

Today, it’s his top-selling flavor.

In addition to his tangy citrus pies, Dye offers flavors several other flavors including sweet potato, pecan delight, N’Awlins pecan, peanut butter and Blueberry Hill — the latter named for the song originally performed by Gene Autry, though Dye is partial to the Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong renditions.

Another unique offering is the purple monster, a pie made with Okinawan sweet potatoes that turn a rich, indigo hue when baked. Dye’s secret spices work in tandem with the sweet potato to give the pie a distinct flavor.

“It’s unique,” said Dye. “I used to say earthy but then I stopped saying that because somebody made a face. Rich is the right word…it has a lot of character, to say the least.”

Dye is also fine-tuning a brandy old fashioned flavor, which he said will hit the menu as soon as he can convince the 3rd Street Market operators to let him light “a generous amount of brandy” on fire which, according to Dye, is the first step in making the “labor intensive” pie.

“That’s always fun to figure out,” he said. “It’s going to be cool.”

The bakery also offers banana nut bread, and will introduce a blueberry walnut version later on.

Pies are available by the slice and half pie. Jars of Irish sea moss gel and elderberry syrup are also for sale at the market stand.

Life of a salesman

Dye spent 10 years in investment sales before launching his pie business in 2012. And though the transition may seem drastic, the two careers have more in common than one might think.

“Sales kind of gets a bad rap sometimes, but you really learn how to communicate with people,” he said. “When sales is at its best, you’re simply being of service. You’re letting people know what services you have to offer and you’re taking care of people.”

When he began making pies full-time, Dye said he realized his skills from working in sales translated perfectly to the new venture.

“I think it fit well with pies because…when you go to market, that’s one of the most important things you need to be able to do is, is put your product forward and have the confidence to just say ‘hey, I make these pies and they’re really good,'” he said.

After more than a decade of hustling at farmers markets and making far-flung deliveries, Dye said he is excited to enter a downtown space, where many customers will have easier access to the business.

“I’ve spent 10 years picking up and making pies and driving them all over the state,” he said. “Here, people can come to us a little more.”

Dye’s Pies occupies the westernmost hawker stall in the market hall, located in the hallway to the right of Dairyland Old Fashioned Custard & Hamburgers.

The business is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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