Life of Pie: How family inspired Slice Pie Company’s Kristen Mullins to chase her dream

Kristen Mullins from Slice Pie Company has been all over the place – on MSN, USA Today, on Startup Stage, Cary Magazine 2020 Movers and Shakers, winning Blue Ribbons at the NC State Fair…just everywhere.  On today’s show, find out how it all started, and what inspired Kristen to leave her comfortable life of being in Corporate America and take a risk on herself. Also, Kristen has recently been knocked down – with the pandemic and then the downtown Raleigh riots that damaged her popup shops – so how has she stayed positive through all of that?

Donald Thompson: Welcome to The Donald Thompson Podcast. I have Kristen Mullins, and she is the owner of Slice of Pie. Is that – did I say that right?

Kristen Mullins: Slice Pie Company

Donald Thompson: Slice Pie Company. And I have the honor, through my preparation, to taste and sample the chocolate chess, right? And it is mind blowing. And Kristen, thank you for spending time with us. I really appreciate it. Welcome to The Donald Thompson Podcast.

Kristen Mullins: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Donald Thompson: So we’re gonna have some fun today. What we want to do is get a little background and, I’ve had the opportunity to taste the product, and we’re gonna talk a little business, we’re gonna talk a little family. I like for people to introduce themselves so that we’re talking, really, as friends with our audience. So give us a little bit of background, right? Married? Kids? Where’d you go to school? How’d you grow up? And then we’ll jump into some questions.

Kristen Mullins: So I am the real deal Raleigh native. We do exist. Born and raised, I, in fact, am so close to home that I bought a house across the street from my parents where I grew up. I am single, and I’m a single mother of a beautiful 9-year-old girl, Elliana. She’s the love of my life, and she is my driving force for everything that I do as Slice came because of her.

You know, when she was two years old, I knew that I needed to follow some sort of passion in life, ’cause I was feeling a little lost and a little bit just uncertain of my direction in life. And you know, I just looked at her one day and I just knew. I knew that I needed to do something that was kind of out of the box, and I took a leap of faith, and I continued to work for my corporate, very comfortable, corporate job for about eight months as I was building it. And then at that point, I just said,” I’m going for it.” I got, you know, my family supported me, my father and I started the business. He was like, “Look, if you will sell it, I will bake it.” So, we just, together, started this little, small idea. And I told him, “If you just stick with me, I feel like it’s gonna turn into something huge.”

And he has never left my side, and my mother as well. She’s very behind the scenes about it. She doesn’t want, you know, to be in the magazines and the videos and all that stuff, but she’s very much involved every single day.

Donald Thompson: Oh, man, that’s phenomenal. And the story is amazing, right? Because what we’re talking about is single mom taking a stretch of a comfortable corporate job and making that jump to really chase your passion and chase your dream.

And a lot of people are in that crossroads. If that’s something that they want to do, they’ve got something they feel like they need to do, but then they’ve got some things that are holding them back. What helped you overcome that fear, that uncertainty, that doubt, and bet on yourself?

Kristen Mullins: Gosh, that’s a good question. Really, like I said, it, it really comes down to Elliana. I have always thought that I wasn’t smart enough. I have always thought that I wasn’t the best at anything. I’ve always been a little insecure naturally, and when I had Elliana, for the first time in my life, I felt passion that I had never felt before, but I also felt like, ‘Wow, I really am smart. I’m a really good mom. I am really good at doing this.’ And then, because of that confidence that I began to have for the first time in my life as a mother, I couldn’t look at her and half do life and then expect her to, you know, really take off and like, trust her instincts if I wasn’t even trusting mine.

So I, it was really about leading and showing her that she could do anything she put her mind to and you know, it really is paying off. She’s very secure. She’s very comfortable in her own skin. She trusts her instincts, and I know that a lot of it has to do with the way that I’ve raised her. So, it really does just come down to like, really seeing what I’ve poured into her and the goodness that has come from that, and knowing that I can do that with anything that I put my mind to.

Donald Thompson: Oh man. That is amazing. Let me, let me just reiterate something that I’m not going to forget, and that’s going to really change some minds and hearts in our audience, right? That you didn’t want to do life halfway. Right? And you decided to take everything that life had to offer, and go get what was meant for you.

Right? That, that motivation to be that example, right, for your daughter was bigger than the fear.

Kristen Mullins: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: That is awesome. That is really, really phenomenal. And I appreciate you sharing that because behind any success, there’s usually those pivotal moments. Those turning points, those motivations that we all have that, that allows us to push through that uncertainty. And so, congratulations for that.

When you look at your business and, you know, USA Today, and magazine covers, and a lot of accolades for the things that you’ve built, right? How do you keep that vision flowing? Like, what’s next for you?

Kristen Mullins:  Well, there was a lot that was supposed to happen this year, and then this crazy pandemic just screwed that up for me. So, we did have a lot of plans of growing the business this year. My divorce was going to be final, and I felt like this was the right time for me to really push forward and focus completely on that and my child. No other distractions, and it was just 2020 was going to be my year, and I was going to make some bold moves.

That’s also why I did the podcast, the Earfluence podcast, because I was like, “All right, let’s start looking for investors. Let’s get the ball rolling. This is when I’m gonna, I’m really gonna go for it and just see what’s out there.” And I had big plans, you know, growing it within the area, specifically, I’ve said before, this is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

And I feel like I haven’t even tapped in to like, but a small portion of it. I have put little money into advertising, I’ve put little money into, you know, like retail or, you know, like a retail space. So like our little popup shop in downtown Raleigh, it – we’re only renting a portion of that space just to be safe.

So I’ve always taken the, kind of, the safe route financially, while making bold moves and trying to find ways not to spend too much money.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. I get it. That, that difference between chasing that big, big dream, and then that risk aversion, and a lot of entrepreneurs are kind of stuck in that, in that state.

What I’ll tell you is through, kind of, experiencing your customer service, right? We ordered the pies, somebody delivered them in a non-contact way to my house, right, and then I got a little note that said go ahead and get them in the refrigerator. They’re not going to sit in 91 degrees, right?  That was good advice, right? So I think there’s, there is a way to think about the circumstances and the setback, but also people are at home. People are doing more with e-commerce.

Kristen Mullins: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: People are looking for things that make them smile. And what I will tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I don’t know if these pies will handle the pandemic, our race issues, our recession or anything like that, but I will tell you what – they make you smile.

Kristen Mullins: That’s right. As you take a bite of the pie.

Donald Thompson: They make you smile. And so, you should just remember that you have something that your quality is put in every bite. And then how do you deliver that experience to more people independent of the circumstances that are kind of around you? Right? That’s a time where we’re innovation can, can live.

Let’s talk about the actual product. Without giving away a secret sauce, right, how long did it take you to perfect the what, and the how, and the ingredients, the time, the crust, like, what kind of impact did it take or time did it take for you to get what you considered excellent?

Kristen Mullins: So this is the easiest part.

Donald Thompson: OK.

Kristen Mullins: I didn’t have to do anything. My father is the true baker. He is the one that came up with the ingredients. I’m the big thinker, business owner who just happens to bake pies, so I will never take full credit for my dad’s hard work. However, my father actually grew up baking pies and all the women on his side of the family, he would just, they would gather together and just bake pies. So like, those recipes actually weren’t his own either. He tweaked them a little bit, but these are truly family recipes that were passed down to us with slight tweaking here or there.

So, I knew what we were sitting on. I assumed the entire world knew what an amazing pie was, and I just thought everyone sat at home and – around the dinner table on Sunday evenings – and they were eating pie. And then I realized no, nobody actually is anymore, and my father, when I was in high school, entered it in to the State Fair.

He entered his apple pie and his biscuits, and he won both.

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome.

Kristen Mullins: So fast forward, I get married. I’m doing my thing. I have a corporate job. I have a child. I’m just living that normal life, and I decided I was gonna make a bunch for Christmas gifts for my neighbors. And, you know, I had baked them before it wasn’t that wasn’t a big deal, but I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s a good gift I should give.”

And the reaction was overwhelming. Like, they were literally knocking at my door like, “Who made this? Where can I go get this?” And I’m like, “No, I made it.”

Donald Thompson: That is really cool. Like one of the things that, as I’m thinking, and I can’t help this, right, the entrepreneur in me kind of kicks in and I’ve always got these ideas.

Like, do you have mini pies? Do you have small versions?

Kristen Mullins: We do. We do. So, there are so many different – you know, we can make mini pies, we have little slice bites, we have slice shooters. I had another idea that I was about to launch for the summer, really excited about, and then everything with the pandemic and it just didn’t make sense to launch it yet.

I didn’t want to – so here’s where I know when the time is right we need to grow. Because my kitchen is only so big, right, so like, I really push the same product in order to keep my flow, the flow of my kitchen, you know, efficient and my cost down the labor costs, all that stuff down. So, that is why we focus so much on whole and half pies, but we’re not limited to that.

So, if we were to grow into a bigger facility and I had, you know, employee galore at my fingertips, then I would be pushing the mini pies, pocket pies. Like, you know, there’s so much that I can do with it. It’s just –

Donald Thompson: if you were, if you were doing – so I wasn’t at the event, The Startup Stage, the debut pitch. I had, I was like triple booked, and I was there the next day. So, I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit, right, but give me the pitch that I missed.

Kristen Mullins: Oh, come on!

Donald Thompson: Give me – the best you can – give me the pitch that I missed on The Startup Stage.

Kristen Mullins: So, I kind of said a little bit of it already. But, in a nutshell, I began with, you know, I’m Kristen Mullins, born and raised here in Raleigh, North Carolina. I own a pie company. We ship nationwide, we have wholesale accounts and then we go direct to consumer. We can deliver. We offer pick up at our downtown popup shop. I have 70% gross margins. We made a quarter million dollars last year. I put very little advertisement into, or I guess any financial – I’ve barely poured any of my own money into it.  I mean, honestly, we kind of hit the ground running. Like, we’ve had the money coming in from the very beginning. But, I also wasn’t doing it completely full time at first.

So this has been a very organic and like slow like, I haven’t jumped in. I didn’t jump into it a hundred percent at first it was kinda like, “Oh, I had this idea. Let’s see if we can get some people to buy it.” Well, the next thing I know, I’m getting picked up by MSN, USA Today, The Daily Mail. We already have a four page spread in Our State Magazine. I’m on the cover of Cary Magazine. I was just voted as 2020 Mover and Shakers for Cary Magazine. So like, what it comes down to is the product itself is amazing. So that speaks for itself, but we work so hard and we have never given up, even during a pandemic, I had to get creative. So it’s like, we’re always looking to beat the challenge and like, find a way to get around it and not, you know, it’s, it really does just come down to a lot of grit and knowing what we have is so niche and different than what you’re used to seeing.

Donald Thompson: So how much money do you need to take the next step?

Kristen Mullins: You know, at this point, a lot has changed, right? So I know with where we’re sitting now, my parents are ready to like take a step back, and they deserve it. So, I know I only know so much, too. And sure, I could learn on my own, but I would really love someone to take me under their wing and just say, “Here. Here’s how we get you to there.”

Because quite honestly, I’m a little exhausted, too. I need someone who’s smarter than me, and I’m OK not being the smartest person in the room. So, I’m re-evaluating, actively re-evaluating, what I need going forward, but I definitely know more than anything I need, I need someone else. I need someone to step in and say, “Let’s figure this out,” because I’ve kind of gotten to the point where you have to understand, like, I have a two year degree.

I’m not a, you know, four year grad and I don’t have my master’s and all this stuff, but I work really hard and I’m willing to learn, but I also know that like, I’m a little bit tapped-out when it comes to like my, my own knowledge. So I really am open to investors, but like who’s really even investing right now?

Right. So it’s like –

Donald Thompson: What I would say is that, because everybody thinks nobody’s investing now, there’s plenty of opportunities to find the ones who still are for the right opportunity to get ahead. Right? So that’s number one. The second thing that I think is pretty important is all of the universities have student led programs with expert faculty members that can get and partner free consulting and the student experience.

And so offline of this call, we’ll talk again and I’ll make a couple of introductions minutes, because one of the things that most entrepreneurs are struggling with, like you described, is that knowledge gap of what they should do given the cards they have.

Kristen Mullins: Yes.

Donald Thompson: Usually the actual actions aren’t so hard, but making the right decision is a little bit complex.

Yes, absolutely.

Totally get that. The second thing is, a lot of times when you’re thinking about growing and scaling the business, you also could think about licensing the recipes, licensing the content that you have, and somebody else takes on some of the distribution challenges and the overhead challenges in the marketing, because you have a product that is, that is really, really powerful.

The final thing that I would tell you is, don’t let the current things you see in front of you keep you from making the contacts you’ll need the moment things break because that’s what everybody, that’s what everybody’s doing. They’re waiting for something better, but this is the perfect time to network, strengthen your business plan, and then when you’ve got five to seven people that align with what you want, you need financially, knowledge-wise, distribution, then you can already hit go.

Kristen Mullins: ‘Cause I had some ideas that I was talking to Jason about before you logged on, and he was telling me, or he said immediately, like, “That’s a huge idea. I would totally do this.”

But, I feel like you’re right though. I shouldn’t just be waiting. I need to be actively, figuring out ways to connect with the right people, because I feel like it’s a huge idea. I almost feel like it’s like the break.

Donald Thompson: And then the other thing is, my assistant, Leslie, has her a degree in food science. And there’s probably different relationships and branding in that economy and infrastructure. And so, I do think maybe we should put our minds together

Kristen Mullins: I would love that.

Donald Thompson: And you know, how we share these pods with a broader group of folks.

Kristen Mullins: I mean, especially now that you tried and I’m so glad you actually tried it, otherwise you’d be like, this girl is all talk.

Donald Thompson: No, ’cause they’re, they’re pretty good.

So, when you think about your journey to date and, and go forward, what advice would you give? Like, you’ve learned some things as an entrepreneur, as a business person. What things would you tell other entrepreneurs as they’re starting to chase their dream to think about, to look out for?

Kristen Mullins: Be prepared to make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.

And I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to stop in the beginning, but my father would not let me. You know, we – I kind of – I’m very over analytical. I’m really hard on myself, as I’m sure most of us are. But in the beginning, I would find myself so overwhelmed that I’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can do this. This is too hard. I don’t have the answer to that, this is overwhelming.”

And once I started to embrace the challenges, they stopped affecting me so much. My father really is one of the best human beings on this planet, and he has taught me so many life lessons, and he has always encouraged me to be exactly who I am, flaws and all.

And once I started to really embrace those mistakes, but then I found a way to like, learn throughout the pain, I’m just not as fearful was I was. You know, a lot of people would never go take such, what they would consider a risk like this, because they’re so scared of failure. I have failed a million times during this, but most people wouldn’t even know because I picked myself back up and I just keep pushing.

So I think more than anything, it’s like, step away from all your fears and embrace them. Like, all of it’s a learning process. And if you’re constantly learning, you’re gonna, you’re gonna get to a point where you’re not making so many mistakes anymore. So, I’m really proud of the fact that I have allowed myself to still be proud of myself throughout the low lows, you know, and even the high highs, you know. So I would say that’s the biggest thing.

Donald Thompson: That was phenomenal advice. And to keep pushing in spite of your flaws, to have somebody you’re so fortunate – and I know you know this – to have people in your corner believe on you and believe in you, and borrow courage when you need to borrow courage. And we all need people in our life that we can borrow courage from when we’re a little bit down, right?

Kristen Mullins: Yes.

Donald Thompson: ‘Cause everybody has to deal with that. So, I’m so appreciative of that openness and that authentic answer.

There’s been some racial strife in our country. There was protests, and I understand that your downtown location got damaged during some in Raleigh.

Kristen Mullins: Yeah.

Donald Thompson:  What is your perspective there, right? Does that make you bitter towards the protests? Were you angry?  Was anybody hurt?  Like what, or like – that happened to you. Like what, what did that make you feel? Like, what was that experience like as everything was going on?

Kristen Mullins: It still makes me emotional. I have a hard time. Like, the moment I realized it was happening, I burst into tears. I was devastated. But it wasn’t necessarily the protestors, it was the rioters. There was a difference. There were people there that were protesting for the good, and rightfully so, and then there were just some really bad people that showed up and made a really bad decision. You know, I’m just a renter. I don’t have a huge investment in that space. So from the landlord’s perspective, I’m sure it was very different than mine. Yeah, I lost some money and I felt violated. But you know what? I turned it once again, a negative into a positive. You know, a couple of weeks later, I had no intentions of taking my daughter downtown with me ’cause you know, you just there’s glass still.

And you know, we still have glass everywhere and stuff like that. But it wasn’t like, it was inconvenient at that time. I knew I needed to make it down there. My father was down there, so I took her with me and we drove around downtown and we both cried. I mean, she’s 9 years old and I talked about racism and how there are certain people in this world that don’t like that people simply because of the way that they look and how wrong it is.

And she was so impacted by this reality, and we discussed it, and we had a hard conversation. I had to explain her “You are a privileged child simply because the way that you look, and that’s not OK. Everyone should be on the same playing field.” So, I took her down she helped, you know, sweep up and I turned it into more of a lesson of just challenging and hard conversations with her, and, and that in turn like, poured into me a little bit, too. Like, you know, I immediately, or couple of days later, posted something on our Slice Instagram just saying, “We are not victims here. Like, this change needs to happen, period. And sadly, you know, the violence happened, but let’s turn this into a growing moment.”

Donald Thompson: Hmm. The thing I will say based on that response, but mostly this entire conversation, there’s a winner within you screaming to get out and be known to the world. And so my encouragement is to, to not let this moment of chaos and the pandemic keep you from pushing and growing and being ready for when your moment comes, right? And that’s really important from an entrepreneur standpoint, from spiritual standpoint, from a hope and change standpoint. And the negative forces in our world will get us to turn and move in the wrong direction because the other side of all the chaos is the bright future.

Kristen Mullins: Yeah, for sure.

Donald Thompson: The other side of all the chaos is that bright future and the media and a lot of the, kind of, the political nature of things, try to keep people apart and not realize like, how connected and how much agreement there really is.

And for you to be able to look at the internal pain of if that violation and that negative outcome for your store, but turning it into a growing and teaching moment for your family and pushing through it is phenomenal. And I can’t sit here and say that I would be as gracious if I were in the other, you know, in the, in the other position.

And so, good for you. I’ve absolutely enjoyed hanging out with you. Got a chance to get to know you as an entrepreneur, and I got to meet your daughter and all of that good stuff. And I would just encourage you, and if I can be helpful in anything that I’m doing, I hope that you’ll ask, right?

Kristen Mullins: Absolutely. No, I’m so glad that we’ve met.

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The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit Earfluence.com.