Grand Traverse Pie transforms into bakery/cafe, forms franchising company

TRAVERSE CITY – The sweet smell of freshly-baked pies always surrounds the Grand Traverse Pie Company, but in addition to that heady aroma is the sweet smell of success.

Since opening their doors in 1996, Mike and Denise Busley's pie company has been phenomenally successful. Now, they are preparing to take their homemade goodness on the road in the form of GTPC bakery/cafe franchises that will be opening soon in neighboring counties, as well as in Indiana and, eventually, Ohio.

In addition, the Traverse City shop has been enhanced in both size and menu options. Now at 2,200 square feet with 30 new seats and an amplified lobby, the entire place has been given what Mike terms "a significantly upgraded feel."

The larger space gives GTPC additional room to expand its tasty lunch and food service menu. The fruit and cream pies are, of course, a staple, but customers can also choose from pot pies (small and regular sizes), quiches, sandwiches, salads, and take-home dinner items.

Not only does the average guy on the street rave about the pies, but one culinary giant, Mario Batali of Molto Mario fame, is also a huge fan. Busley says that when Batali vacations in the area, he always sends out for GTPC pies.

The GTPC staff recently spent an entire day with the Food Channel's Food Finds production crew filming in the shop, the farmer's market and at a cherry orchard in bloom near Suttons Bay. The show will air in August. Busley says the Food Channel selected the GTPC "as the company nationwide to get a cherry pie."

GTPC has also garnered coverage in Business Week, U.S. News and World Report, Men's Journal and Travel Holiday, to name a few.

The road to success hasn't been a highly difficult one for the Busleys, but it did have its twists and turns. The Busleys both graduated from Michigan State University in the early 1980s and careers in aerospace engineering and medical sales took the young couple to Los Angeles and then San Diego.

Things were going well for Mike and Denise with the booming economy of the '80s. However, toward the end of the decade, things began to slow down and Mike felt somewhat disenchanted with the way things were headed in the corporate world.

The family was camping in the mountains near San Diego when they entered an establishment called the Julian Pie Co. It was most probably destiny, but for Busley it was nirvana. He was immediately taken with not only the heavenly smells, but also the warm and inviting atmosphere.

The family wanted to move back to Michigan, and with positive qualities like low overhead, good margins and a "low-tech, feel-good, connect-with-the-community" vibe, the pie shop seemed a likely business venture. Besides, Busley was very keen on doing something that had very tangible and rewarding results at day's end.

It was a daring idea but with support from family and a crash course in the pie business from the owner of Julian Pie, the Busleys moved mom, grandma and kids to Traverse City with dreams of a new business and life.

Busley says that a lot of GTPC's success is luck mixed in with some astute business sense, but he also gives Denise "immense credit for supporting the idea."

The owner of the Julian Pie Co. also came to Traverse City for a few weeks to help the Busleys get set up and make important decisions, like the best sort of flour or shortening to use for crusts and the best apples for making pies. They hit on successful combinations and while the basic pie recipes are proprietary and will never change, the Busleys are always looking for fresh ideas.

Now, Busley has a new company, GTP Franchising, LLC, from which to franchise the Grand Traverse Pie Co.

"We have transformed ourselves into a bakery cafe, not just a pie company."

Solid figures supported the Busley's decision to expand. The casual food sector is the fastest-growing sector of the food service category, growing by 44% since 1999. And Busley has a very definite philosophy about the GTPC franchises.

"We will be like a mini Panera Bread, if you will, focusing not on bread, but on our pies and the natural offspring that the pie crust allows."

The franchises are designed to be cozy and appealing. Busley hopes they will be a destination he refers to as "the third place." "You go to the office, you go home, but where else do you want to go?" he commented. GTPC hopes to be the third place people desire to go and spend time.

With a tasty product and Busley's business skills and strong vision for the future, GTPC is destined to continue to grow. In an area where that little red round fruit is king, you could say things over at GTPC are a bowl of cherries. BN