Marin Entrepreneur Competes To Get Pocket Pies On Walmart Shelves
As a single mom of three, San Rafael resident Kara Romanik sold her house and withdrew her retirement savings to launch Mamie's Pies.
SAN RAFAEL, CA — What started as baked goods for a school fundraiser turned into a successful business for San Rafael resident Kara Romanik — and may soon hit Walmart shelves.
The founder of Mamie's Pies was selected from more than 4,800 businesses to participate in Walmart's seventh Open Call. About 850 small and medium-size businesses have been invited to pitch Walmart merchants during the multinational retail corporation's virtual merchandising event.
"When you're in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) business, you know where you would ultimately like to sell your products, and Walmart is always at the top of the list," Romanik said.
"Walmart's Open Call program is such a big deal for me because I feel that Mamie's Pies would be a natural fit," she added. "Walmart fosters wholesomeness and family, which is what our pies are all about. I'm beyond thrilled to move forward in the Open Call process, and my team and I are really excited to showcase our pocket pies and prove that we will make a great addition to Walmart shelves."
Founded six years ago in San Rafael, Mamie's Pies creates hand-held pocket pies surrounded by seven layers of flakiness and stuffed with four all-natural, fruit-forward ingredients.
Pie-making has always been a tradition in Romanik's family. Recipes were passed down from her great-grandmother to her nana and then to her mum, "Mamie."
Based on her mother's recipe, Romanik created her pies for her then-17-year-old daughter Kiki's fundraiser at Sir Frances Drake High School. The fundraiser was a success, and she then found herself taking orders from local grocery stores.
Romanik teamed with her daughter to build a new business. They made 9-inch apple pies and sold them to local grocery stores in Marin County and the Greater Bay Area.
"But things changed during our many in-store demos," Romanik recalled.
"We would hear the same story time and time again. 'My husband and I are empty-nesters, and we just can't justify buying a whole pie. We want to enjoy a slice without wasting or eating the whole pie.'
"That's when a lightbulb went off, and I came up with pocket pies shaped like apples, blueberries and pumpkins. The pocket pie was born."
As a 51-year-old single mom of three, Romanik sold her house, withdrew her retirement savings, and found the molds for the shapes that would become a staple tool in her signature dessert.
Romanik, now 57, refers to Mamie's Pies as her "second act."
"You're never too old for a second act," she said. "I moved my kids and I into a small apartment, and we figured it out together. I followed my gut."
The pocket pies were initially made out of a small commercial kitchen in San Rafael, then a larger commercial kitchen in Larkspur. Since scaling the business three years ago, the pocket pies have been produced in Maine.
"I'm a New Englander, and we use my family's recipes, so our apples and wild Maine blueberries come from New England," she said. "It's important to me to locally source ingredients and make our pocket pies where the recipes originated."
Romanik, who has lived in San Rafael for 22 years, runs all other aspects of the business out of her home.
Kiki, who is now 24, has been working for Mamie's Pies as the company's creative lead since she graduated from college. Romanik's two sons, Cameron, 21, and Griffin, 18, have worked in the kitchen since the company was launched.
"They would be there with me at midnight making pumpkin pocket pies for the holiday rush or doing tasting demos at grocery stores all around the Bay Area," Romanik said. "It really is a family affair!"
Three years ago, Mamie's Pies earned an "Oprah's Favorite" endorsement, which propelled the company to build an e-commerce platform and prepare for shopping channel QVC.
The company currently sells its pocket pies — which are available in apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, pumpkin and strawberry — on its own Shopify site and with a number of e-commerce partners that include QVC, Zulily, Stonewall Kitchen, Macy's and the military exchange.
"I've appeared on QVC over 60 times in the past 2-1/2 years with multiple sellout shows," Romanik said. "This national exposure helped launch Mamie's into grocery last November, and we're currently available in over 1,000 stores nationwide and growing every day."
Now Mamie's Pies has an opportunity to land on Walmart and Sam's Club shelves, on Walmart.com and Walmart Marketplace. Romanik is preparing for her 30-minute virtual one-on-one pitch meeting Oct. 1.
Romanik said she feels grateful for the opportunity.
"You have to be willing to take a risk on yourself, which can be very scary, but the reward of the journey is like nothing I could have anticipated," she said. "From the people I meet every day, to the personal growth at 57, to the success of my business, I'm so very thankful."