While working at Waterloo Records, Jen Biddle was a big Lyle Lovett fan, so when she found out he was coming to her store, she wanted to do something special for him.
"I thought I would make him a pie," Biddle said. "I just thought he would like one. Every female in my family is a good baker, so I got my mom's pecan pie recipe and made one for him."
Willie Nelson visited next, and the pies' popularity spread with Biddle making them for her co-workers before starting a small pie-baking business, Biddle said.
Biddle also worked as a social worker, selling pies on the side. It didn't take her long to marry the two professions. Being a social worker, Biddle had always wanted to start a nonprofit, and in 2006, Biddle started the process of turning her small pie-baking business into a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Texas Pie Kitchen, to provide job training for those with employment barriers. The pies are available for purchase at the Whole Foods Market in Bee Cave, with all of the profits reinvested in Texas Pie Kitchen.
"I call it a random gift," Biddle said. "The organization really isn't about pies; it's an avenue to create jobs for people. I was given a gift to be able to create the nonprofit and make it work. I've always believed in finding a creative way to create jobs for people and help them become self-sufficient."
The class, which meets three days a week for four months, averages five students per session. During this time, students learn general baking and cooking skills from volunteer instructors, some of whom are graduates of the program. The students also receive financial and job readiness training on top of their kitchen skills.
"We try to do a lot of self-sufficiency workshops," Biddle said. "It's not just, 'We taught you how to bake, now go get a job.'"
Texas Pie Kitchen also helps with job placement for those who pass the course, boasting an 88 percent job placement rate thus far, according to Biddle.
Lerrick Martin was one of the first students and has stayed with the program as a baking manager and job trainer.
Martin also works part time as a kitchen assistant for Front Steps, an organization that helps the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, which donates the kitchen for the Texas Pie Kitchen.
"It's been an interesting experience," Martin said. "The different people coming through and experiencing the same type of enjoyment that I had towards the program—you get to see people's passion for [baking]."
One of these students was Chad Scott. Scott has always had a passion for cooking, but could not find the right fit, he said. After going through the program at Texas Pie Kitchen, Scott landed a job as cook at The Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard.
"[Texas Pie Kitchen] gave me a really good, solid education," Scott said. "They provided me with a lot of tools, a lot of skills, especially teamwork."
Biddle loves seeing graduates get jobs in the food industry, she said.
"I was floored by how quickly it happens. They do all that hard work, and it pays off so quickly," Biddle said.
Texas Pie Kitchen, 500 E. Seventh St., Austin, 814-7743, www.texaspiekitchen.org