It all started with the sudden closure of her previous bakery, in 2018.
“I owned a bakery called BakerBaker in West Roxbury with an old neighbor of mine, for about five years. She had owned restaurants in the past, so she handled the money, whereas I focused on baking and handling that part of the business. And then, in October of 2018, my partner decided she wanted to close. It was right before Thanksgiving, and I had customers contacting me asking ‘What about Thanksgiving? What about my pies for Thanksgiving?’ said Fran Kolenik, Reading resident and owner of Drive-By Pies in Brookline.
In a spur of the moment decision, Kolenik decided to bring home one oven and one freezer from BakerBaker, setting them up on the back porch of her home on Mineral Street.
“My first thought was ‘Maybe I can get a food truck, and I’ll just do drive-by pies.’ So for that Thanksgiving, I just baked out of my house, and made about 250 pies that I delivered down to West Roxbury all the way up to Peabody” said Kolenik.
In the early days, Kolenik did all the baking in her house, and carried out deliveries using her own car. Four months and hundreds of pie deliveries later, Kolenik decided she needed to find a different venue.
“That February, I decided I had to get out of my house. I thought of trying to open a food truck, but, for that, you still have to have a commercial kitchen, and that ended up to be more expensive than paying rent somewhere else. So, I reached out to a friend who made wedding cakes in Brookline, asking if I could use her kitchen to bake out of. And she said, ‘I want to retire, but you can buy out and take over my lease if you want.’ And so I said ‘Sure!”
Kolenik took out a loan against her house and opened Drive-By Pies that April, the name taking inspiration from those early days of making house deliveries. And just like that, she was off, having to teach herself the ins and outs of running a business from the ground up. In building her new menu, Kolenik found herself drawn to items that she loved making, the clear winner being pies.
“When I was at the first bakery, I found that I hated doing cakes. I didn’t think I was very good at them. So I said to someone that I was working with at BakerBaker, that at my next place, it was just going to be all pies” said Kolenik.
Kolenik says that the success of Drive-By Pies is thanks in part to her experience at BakerBaker.
“I learned a lot from the first time around with BakerBaker, and so I knew what sold and what didn’t. So where this was originally going to be all pies, I have actually slowly added in all the stuff that my other bakery did. So now we do breakfast, lunch, bars and cookies and all sorts of stuff” said Kolenik.
For Kolenik, the driving force for her business has always been community. In her early delivery days, Kolenik found herself missing the everyday interactions with her customers and the community that comes with having a brick and mortar storefront.
“I think that’s what drove me to go back to brick and mortar. There are a lot of people who only do farmer’s markets, and there’s a lot to be said for that because you don’t have overhead and bills. But I found, when I was delivering, I wasn’t really talking to people, and I missed that kind of day-to-day seeing of everyone. I love making new stuff for them and hearing their feedback” said Kolenik.
The location of Drive-By Pies has also helped foster this sense of community.
“It’s right in the middle of a neighborhood, where there hadn’t been a coffee shop in over 30 years. We have families, and kids who come in as they walk to school, and we are also across the street from a medical building, so we have a great mix of customers, many of whom come in regularly” said Kolenik.
When COVID hit, Kolenik found this to be one of the most difficult adjustments.
“It’s been a daily adaptation. When COVID first hit, it happened to be the week of March 14th, which is Pi Day, which – except for Thanksgiving – is one of my busiest days because we are near a bunch of tech offices. And that’s how I knew things were going south. Everyone started cancelling their pie orders because everyone was leaving their office buildings. After that, I closed for a few weeks in a panic” said Kolenik.
In this time of uncertainty, Kolenik found herself drawing inspiration from her early days of Drive-By Pies, when it was just her, her kitchen, and her car.
“I went back to my roots, and just started delivering again. We started doing online ordering, where you know you had to order a certain amount, and then myself or my husband or my daughter would deliver it to people’s doors so there would be no contact” said Kolenik.
After that, Kolenik and Drive-By Pies started making lunches for the local hospital buildings, and deliveries for people’s smaller Easter gatherings, eventually working their way back up to slowly re-opening the storefront.
“We’re all working a little harder. We’re all working longer hours. We are currently working with less staff, just because it’s a very small place, so I can’t have too many people in there at once. But we’ve adapted. It’s just a little different now. I’m lucky in the sense that we were already more of a takeout place. It’s also nice because we have a lot of older customers, so we are still able to see people coming and going and keep an eye on them” said Kolenik.
For those just discovering Drive-By Pies, Kolenik suggests taking advantage of the myriad of options on their menu.
“Everyone’s got their favorites, and that’s why my repertoire keeps getting a little bigger. But, I’d definitely have to send someone home with a chicken pot pie, and then maybe a slice of apple or chocolate cream pie. We also do a lot of sandwiches (my favorite being The Green Monster), and a butternut squash soup that I love. But as far as my favorite pie on the menu, I love the Apple Cranberry Crumb. We also get a lot of press for our Pear with Salted Caramel which I am always bringing home for my mailman here in Reading” said Kolenik.
Drive-By Pies is located at 248 Cypress Street, Brookline, and is open Mondays from 8 am to 1 pm, and Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8 am to 3 pm. Kolenik also sells her pies at the Wakefield Farmers Market. And for Reading residents looking to enjoy some of Kolenik’s famous pies a little closer to home?
“I tell everybody, I deliver in my house. Just call it in, and tell me that’s where you want to pick it up, you can pick it up at my house at any point” said Kolenik.