Filmmaking not as easy as pie
Starting and growing your own small business can be daunting. How do you know if you are tough enough? One way is to begin by doing something even harder - making documentary films, for example.
The formula worked for Lina Hoshino and Angelo Sacerdote, owner-operators of the Petaluma Pie Company. Launched by the couple in December 2010, the bakery/café features both traditional dessert pies and non-dessert “hand pies” suitable for lunch. Their pies are made with local, mostly organic ingredients.
Lina studied fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Before going into the pie business, both she and Angelo had careers in documentary filmmaking.
“I still do small projects such as digital storytelling,” Lina says, “but the pie business keeps me running. We’re a tiny, mom-and-pop operation.”
Lina’s father was born and raised in Japan, while her mother was born and raised in Taiwan, which was a colony of Japan at that time. After living in Tokyo, Paris and Hawaii, her family opened a Japanese restaurant in New Jersey in the 1980s.
“One of my early films, “Hideko,” made in 2006, was about my mother’s life, beginning with her childhood living under Japanese occupation through the end of World War II,” Lina says.
She says she has enjoyed being a filmmaker, but …
“Making films is a big pain,” Lina says. “It costs lots of money, and as a rule you don’t make any back.”
“Running a small business like ours is daunting,” he says, “but filmmaking is worse. You’re always scrambling for grants, looking for funding. Despite the work, it’s easier to sell pies.”
Angelo was born and raised in New York City, and studied art at State University of New York at Purchase. One of his last projects as a filmmaker was directing “Fed Up!” a 2002 documentary on genetically modified food.
Hoshino’s filmography, likewise, is notable for its engaging themes.
“Leap of Faith: How Enmanji Temple Was Saved” (2010) describes how the Buddhist temple in Sebastopol was saved from vandalism and arson by local activists. “Living along the Fenceline” (2011) profiles seven women who live alongside U.S. military bases. All are activists working to mitigate the harmful effects - prostitution, sexual violence, exposure to toxins - of those bases on impoverished girls and women nearby. The featured bases include those in Guam, Puerto Rico, Okinawa, South Korea and the Philippines.
The couple met through their mutual work in film. They lived and worked in San Francisco for a time before moving first to Penngrove, then to Petaluma.
“We have a little suburban farm in our front and backyard,” Lina says, and points out that she and Angelo use such homegrown produce in their pies. “Some of the blackberries, rhubarb and figs come from our garden.”
The pie business, it turns out, is doing extremely well. The shop makes the most of its 1,000-square-foot space and equipment. The 80-quart mixer constantly produces dough for the crusts.
“We bake our pies fresh every day,” Angelo says. “Each of our two ovens can bake up to twenty 9-inch pies at a time, or sixty mini-pies. We make hundreds of pies each week.
“I think people like us because we’re not mass-producing our pies,” he adds. “There are no canned peaches in our peach pie.”
The shop uses Central Milling in Petaluma for its flour. The local farms that Lina and Angelo support don’t use chemical pesticides. Most of the nearly thirty businesses and organizations they work with are in northern California.
For lunch, the café offers a wide range of “Savory Hand Pies.” Bestsellers include Cheeseburger Pie, Mushroom & Goat Gouda Pie, and Curried Cauliflower & Chickpea Pie. Customer favorites among the dessert pies include Banana Cream and Apple. From the beginning the company has offered online ordering, but foot traffic to the café remains the main business.
“We have a lot of tourists dropping in,” Angelo says. “People hear about us in all sorts of ways. We even got mentioned in a Michelin Guide.”
“We have a hardworking and stable staff,” Hoshino says. “We’ve become a family.”
And as it so happens, pies are not all Lina and Angelo offer at their downtown pie shop.
Displaying a black T-shirt that says “Eat Pie, Not Cake,” Lina smiles, “We’re also a clothing store!”