Kayla Collette shows off a pair of cream pies she made at Valley View Orchard Pies in Oxford. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

OXFORD — Cynthia Johnston, a retired accountant working part time at Valley View Orchard Pies, heard that the nearly 30-year-old company was for sale last year.

Kayla Collette, left and Tina Doak assemble pies at Valley View Orchard Pies new location in Oxford. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

She didn’t have commercial baking experience, nor did daughter Lisa Dunham, but it didn’t stop Johnston from asking Dunham: Maybe we buy it?

They mentioned it in passing to Johnston’s brother, Larry Blake.

“My uncle said, ‘Those aren’t the pies that I buy at Smedberg’s, are they? That’s the best blueberry pie that, hands down, I’ve ever had,'” Dunham said. “He goes, ‘I want in.'”

So, along with Blake’s wife, Marianne, they bought themselves a pie company in August.

They moved the company from Hebron to Oxford over the winter, expanding from 2,000 square feet to 15,000.

They’ve already added several kinds of pie, and in the weeks to come, plans call for a new retail outlet store and the ability to ship pies nationwide.

Lisa Dunham with a tray of pies at Valley View Orchard Pies new location in Oxford. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Johnston, company president, has a hand-drawn sign with “Grand Woman” on the door to her office in their new headquarters on Madison Avenue. Dunham, vice president, has “Boss Woman,” both drawn by her 12-year-old daughter.

When her mother raised the idea of buying Valley View Orchard Pies, “I was like, ‘Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained,'” Dunham said.

70,000 and counting

The family, originally from Connecticut, has been coming to the area for generations to stay at a family camp, Dunham said.

In addition, her mother bought 45 acres in Oxford Hills when Dunham was young, she said, and 16 years ago proposed sharing that land to build on if Dunham and her husband would relocate to Maine, too.

Dunham, who worked in marketing and event planning prior to making pies, said she had worked for her mom in Connecticut and knew their styles complemented each other.

“She’s very laid back, can take care of the financial stuff and make sure everybody’s finessed the way they need to be,” Dunham said. “I’m like, ‘If it’s not working, we’re changing it.'”

All 25 pie company employees stayed under the new ownership and moved into the new building, which required extensive renovations.

Each pie is handmade, with no preservatives, baked in ovens that can cook 100 at a time.

“I spent a lot of time down in the bakery watching, learning and just absorbing,” Dunham said. “Our staff really has a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. We really used what they said to kind of gear us toward the next step.”

Of their 20 types of pie, blueberry is the company’s top seller. They also make tea cakes and whoopie pies, expanding both lines since August.

The business is almost entirely wholesale with vendors in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Dunham is attending the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City in June looking to expand that.

She’s also working with the town to pursue grant funds that would help with refrigeration, heat and humidity control, and creating two new jobs.

Tea Cakes are a new item at Valley View Orchard in Oxford. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Johnston estimated that they made more than 70,000 pies between buying the business in August and the end of the calendar year. Nearly half were sold in November.

Working with her daughter again has been great, she said.

“The fact that we’re trying to diversify and try new recipes and that type of thing is the most enjoyable,”  Johnston said. “We have more capacity, so now we have to bring the sales up to meet our capacity, so that’s a big challenge.”

Dunham said her days are a mix of meetings with vendors and suppliers and trial and error, like figuring out the best way to get a blueberry pie across the country. (The answer: Bake, freeze, ship, reheat to crisp.)

“We’re really motivated to be here, expand the business and make things better, both for the community and the business,” she said. “We’re pretty busy all the time.”

Working is a recurring Sun Journal feature that profiles people on the job in the community. If you have someone you’d like to suggest, contact writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected] or 689-2844.

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