Sometimes a good doughnut helps launch a new business. At least that’s how Woodpecker Pie co-owner Vincent Gagnon says his shop came to be. A year and a half ago, he and his 4-year-old daughter were enjoying some afternoon treats and “just having a conversation about how fun it would be to make and sell them,” Gagnon recalls. Doughnuts, however, were out of the question.
Gagnon was interested, he says, in offering something unique and underrepresented in Asheville’s otherwise rich food scene. His thoughts turned to savory pies — the meaty and filling kind found in England and Scotland. “Because let’s be honest,” he says, “everyone loves pie, right?”
But as the idea grew and the conversations played out with friend and future business partner Matt Bailey, the product itself shrank. Traditionally, pies are 9 inches in diameter. Gagnon and Bailey wanted something smaller — a hand pie. As Gagnon explains, “Anything I can hold in my hand and have a complete meal with is pretty amazing to me.”
On June 25, after more than a year of planning, the two friends officially opened Woodpecker Pie inside The Mothlight on Haywood Road. “We were trying to stay away from puns,” Gagnon says of the restaurant’s name. None of the ideas they came up with, however, had much pop. It wasn’t until Bailey needed to fill out the paperwork to set up their limited liability company designation that Gagnon offered a suggestion that proved fortuitous. “I told him to just pick something from a Tom Robbins novel,” he says. “He picked ‘woodpecker,’ and I thought, ‘That’s actually a great name.’”
The restaurant itself sits inside the music venue’s former back office — a narrow room, less than 100 square feet. Fortunately, hand pies don’t take up much space. Utensils are unnecessary, and a napkin will suffice as a plate. This helps limit clutter in a workspace that is already fully loaded with a three-compartment sink, oven and fridge.
Across from the kitchen, an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game flashes images of street battles. Hungry guests, however, won’t find themselves feeding it quarters as they await their order. “There is no wait time,” says Gagnon. “The pies are warm, ready and waiting for you.”
This is in part due to necessity. All crusts and fillings are prepared on-site. Limited space makes it easier and more practical to have each day’s pies finished before doors open at 5 p.m. The arrangement also allows Gagnon and Bailey, who are both parents, to rotate schedules and responsibilities, so that neither is stuck working every night until 2 a.m. “I don’t think either of us could have done this by ourselves,” says Bailey.
The downside, of course, is that special requests can’t be made. Options include a barbecue chicken pie, steak and ale pie, veggie korma pie and a rotating selection of sweet treats in a crust. The menu will continue to evolve and change. “We have a lot of different ideas for things that we’re going to cycle through,” says Bailey. “It depends on what’s in season and what we can get good deals on.”
Mountain Food Products provides the kitchen with its produce. King Arthur is currently their source for flour, although Bailey notes they’re in conversation with Carolina Ground about sourcing local products.
Woodpecker Pie and The Mothlight are also still in process of figuring out the arrangements for a business within a business. The pies are served in the back while live bands perform up front, which creates a slight dilemma for those seeking a pie without the added expense of a cover charge.
“Right now it’s based on the honor system,” Gagnon says, noting that it hasn’t been a problem yet. He’s hopeful that people won’t use the pies as an excuse to sneak into a show. “We don’t want to negatively affect the revenue from shows. Right now the approach is basically, ‘Let’s see how things go.’”
Gagnon and Bailey both see a larger business down the road. “Hopefully at some point in the near future we can expand out and have our own stand-alone shop with a production kitchen so we can start offering more pies,” says Gagnon. This would also allow them to cater events and offer speciality pies to go.
Future plans would also involve bringing in more co-owners rather than employees. “We think it’s incredibly important to have a sense of ownership in the thing you’re doing,” Gagnon says. “I can’t describe the feeling of being your own boss. It’s a wonderful mix of constant anxiety and excitement.”