Started from the stoop and now she’s here
Meghan Ritchie started her baking career in 2007 by selling homemade doughnuts on the stoop of her Brooklyn apartment with her roommate. But when the roommate moved out, Ritchie didn’t have the bandwidth to keep frying doughnuts once a week, so in 2011, she started making artisanal jam-filled tarts called Megpies. These days, Ritchie’s business has expanded far beyond her Brooklyn stoop, and starting on July 12, her once-regional Megpies will be sold at Starbucks across the country. The newest Starbucks snack hasn’t forgotten its homemade roots though, even though the transition from small, local business to one with a national presence has been fast.
“It’s like zero-to-sixty in about half-a-second,” explained Paul Jones, Ritchie's business partner. “It was tough to do. We really had to hustle to find a place to make these” to their standards, especially since at the very beginning, most of Ritchie’s decisions about where to sell Megpies were based on convenience. “I would choose cafes based solely on their nearness to my home, or along my bicycle commuting route to Greenpoint, which is where I worked at a jam company,” she remembered. Back in 2011, Ritchie would wake up, bake Megpies, deliver them, work a full day and prep the next day’s batch in a borrowed commercial kitchen. Though that situation worked for a couple years, by 2013, she needed a bigger kitchen.
It was at that point Ritchie enlisted Jones’s help, and he scaled up the business significantly. “He actually brought us from making 300 tarts a week to about 3,000 tarts a week in just a matter of months,” she said, and by 2015, the duo was making enough Megpies to serve 30 Starbucks in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
But that’s nothing in comparison to making enough tarts for 7,500 stores while still ensuring that Megpies don’t lose their signature flakiness and flavor. And really, that texture is one of the things that makes Megpies so unique, in Ritchie’s opinion. “We've taken a really long time to develop an all butter-based pie crust that has some flake and texture to it but won't just crumble into bits while you're eating it on the go.” The tarts are also made with natural ingredients, including housemade jam. “We don’t use corn syrup, we don’t use any [artificial] colors or dyes. All the colorful frostings you see come from the jam on the inside that’s incorporated into the icing or fruit puree,” explained Ritchie.
The form is also important and evokes memories of childhood breakfasts and dorm room study sessions, albeit in a more high-end way. “People remember toaster pastries from their youth, and they want something they can grab on-the-go, but a slice of pie can be messy,” added Ritchie. “It just doesn’t invoke that same memory, and we’ve really tried to invoke that nostalgia but provide you with a tart that tastes really good and you can tell is made with a lot of care and good ingredients.” Jones remembered when Ritchie first showed him the Megpies. “I just had a feeling these would strike a chord,” he explained. “They were unique because they represented a very specific time in somebody’s life.”
So in scaling up, Ritchie and Jones wanted to find a manufacturer who would stick to the all-natural recipe and preserve their story and sense of whimsy as much as possible. They also needed a partner to guide them through the more technical difficulties, and that’s where Starbucks came into the picture. Though Ritchie admits that initially, “as a small business owner, you think of a big corporation as pretty scary,” it has been “a wonderful experience.” She added, “If I have any questions or I don't know how to do something, which happens all the time, there's someone there to answer my question, help me out.”
That doesn’t mean that Ritchie and Jones aren’t nervous about the launch. “It's like sending your five-year old off to kindergarten,” Jones joked, but added, “At a certain point you have to let them go to school and let go a little bit.” Ritchie continued, “Are they going to make friends? I don't know.”
But given how quickly Megpies has grown, from a literal sidewalk to every Starbucks in the country in less than five years, it seems very likely that a lot of people will make friends with Megpies come July 12.