The story of Tartine Pie shop is an exciting example how a little elbow grease and lots of perseverance can become a nationwide trend. I don’t know how many pies this little pie shop sells a day, but within 30 minutes that I sat in the shop I easily saw 30 or so get boxed up for take out. It’s my favorite place to get blueberry pie and chocolate cream pie. Good stuff. Here is a great video on how a handbag shop became a pie shop.
Ruby Edwards’ TARTINE Bakery & Café, Seoul
Here is the story of Tartine from the pen of the chef:
/tɑrˈtin; Fr. tarˈtin/ [tahr-teen; Fr. tar-teen]
1. A fancy French open-faced sandwich topped with spreadable ingredients.
2. From French, diminutive of tarte tart 1 ]
3. From Old French: A long winded story
We do offer Romanian Peasant Bread and our farm fresh, handmade, 100% Pure Butter to spread on it, however, we do not offer tarts [Butter Tarts are really a pie]. We prefer the Old French definition: Long winded story- because our story is a bit long winded, to say the least.
In early 2001 I [Chef Garrett] and a former business partner opened Dean & Deluca Deli Coffee Shop in the Dong-bu Ichondong neighborhood of Seoul. Soon my pies, cookies and Cheesecakes were know and loved throughout the neighborhood. Customers starting coming from far and wide to taste this new sensation, pie. Mine was the first pie shop in Korea and received a lot of attention from the press and food clubs during the pre-blogging era.
I later sold my interest in the café and the café was turned into a wine bar, a new trend at the time. I continued to provide restaurant consulting to small businesses.
In May, 2007, my long time friend, Luke Lee and I discussed the possibilities of opening a pie cafe in Seoul and shortly thereafter, shook hands sealing our business partnership. After 9 months of due-diligence Luke and I signed a lease [March, 2008] for the future location of Ruby Edwards’ TARTINE Bakery & Café, Itaewon.
Because the logo for the café was of my mother, a drawing made in the mid-1950, we decided to name the café after her, Ruby Edwards. Ruby had given me a cookbook on my tenth birthday [The Boy’s Cookbook] which started my love affair with food and how to create it. I remember being told that if I was good all week, especially to my sister, I could make Sunday breakfast AND wash the dishes. Sunday breakfast soon became my specialty.
Ruby Edwards’ TARTINE Bakery; Cafe is a pie shop / café that offers coffee and beverages and not a coffee shop that offers pie and desserts, yes there is a difference. Our beverages are designed to enhance our baked goods.
I designed the interior for the café with a French country feel, our kitchen is reminiscent of the kitchens in the Pullman Dinning Cars I ate in while commuting to and from boarding schools in the early to late 60’s.
In Korea, if you remodel a business without hiring a designer and workmen, you are considered low class and thought to have no money. Because most designers have never owned or worked in the type of businesses they design, I have little faith in them and prefer to do my own work, that way the mistakes are my own and not something I had paid for.
Our location was in a ‘cusp area’ of Itaewon, which is to say, not quite in the best location, but not in the worst. We started in the dark narrow alley that no one cared about and our arrival caused quite a stir, and even more so when our neighbors found out we would be doing the remodel ourselves and a ‘foreigner’ was involved! In the past three years, many businesses in our alley have remodeled and the Gu Office has repaved the alley and added more lighting. To many, it is now referred to as TARTINE Alley. Our enormous showcase in the window adds a surreal glow to the alley late at night.
The next big shock for the neighbors was when we started painting the interior. I had selected a soft French yellow for the small walls and ceiling and sponge painted the main walls. I must admit, the yellow paint going on bare white walls was a little overpowering, but I knew that once the antiques and decorations were added, it would be perfect, and it has proven to be the case.
We finally opened on April 19th, just 30 days since we began the remodel. We worked cleaning up until 3am on the 19th and I brought in the baked goods when we opened in the morning after an all night bake-a-thon.
Luke manned the service center and I baked and we both tried to finish the odds and ends that hadn’t gotten finished. From the beginning we were tired from the remodel and the 6 days a week of 15 hour days that followed the opening were hard on us. Mondays we closed and spent the day buying supplies and getting organized. Luke took on the office duties and could be seen doing paperwork between customers.
Finally, our customers increased and we hired someone to help me in the kitchen and later, someone to help Luke and then we decided to be open 7 days a week, and have continued to be open from 10am to 10:30pm, 365 days a year. We have been open every day, even during adverse conditions; you have no idea how adverse those conditions were!
Now we have 8 people in the kitchen and 15 people at the service center, and one office staff member. We have rented kitchen space across the alley from the café and then we added a storeroom that doubles as an office.
Luke and I have been through many adventures and have a stronger business partnership because of it. We are friends, we try not to take the punches of life too seriously, and we can laugh at ourselves. We still have lunch together, share road trips and vacations.
We actively work every day to try to make our business better so that our employees will be happy and secure in their jobs and that our customers can enjoy our consistent products and services. When the financial crises hit Korea and many businesses went bankrupt, our business increased.
Most of all, Luke and I want to take pleasure in what we do and we want to do it well. We want to wake up in the morning and want to go to work and when we go to sleep at night it is in the knowledge that we had a good day, and if it wasn’t so wonderful, well, tomorrow would be another new day.
Our adventures could fill a book… and THAT would be a long winded story!
It is possible for pie in the sky to become reality, Ruby Edwards’ TARTINE Bakery & Cafe Pie, that is.
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