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Excerpt from Patricia Heaton's 'Your Second Act'

In this tale of reinvention, a stay-at-home mom becomes a pie-making mogul

spinner image patricia heaton and her new book called your second act
Getty/Simon & Schuster/AARP

Patricia Heaton became famous as Debra Barone, the long-suffering wife of Ray Romano's character, for nine seasons (1996-2005) on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. She followed that with an ABC sitcom The Middle, in which she played the less-than-perfect center of a family of five, Frankie Heck. Now 62, she's the star of another CBS sitcom, Carol's Second Act, playing Carol Kenney, a former teacher in her early 50s who decides to follow her dream and become a doctor.

In Heaton's new memoir, Your Second Act: Inspiring Stories of Reinvention, she describes her own multiple “second acts” — including how she decided to follow in her sportswriter father's footsteps and major in journalism in college, until realizing during her junior year that she wasn't pursuing her real passion: acting.

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The coronavirus pandemic presents a unique opportunity for those of us who've been given a break from normally busy schedules, she said in a recent interview with AARP The Magazine: “It's a wonderful time for older women to explore dreams we've put off … I write about taking a painting class and the mental hoops I had to jump through to finish, because the other women were so great. The teacher came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you're a messy painter.’ I had paint on my face and my clothes. But you can't worry about what others think when you're starting a second act.”

Her book is full of stories about others’ second acts, including, excerpted below, an account from Liz Smothers, who pursued her passion for pie-making later in life.

Read below, or listen to the audio version.

Life Is What You Bake It: The Second Act Story of Liz Smothers

Liz Smothers is . . . sweet as pie! Owner and founder of the Julian Pie Company, whose apple pies are touted by the Food Network as one of the best foods to eat in all of California, Liz was a stay-at-home mother of five when she decided to get a job to help with the family finances.

Here is Liz's second act story.

I did everything wrong.

At least that's how I felt a lot of times over the years. I wasn't looking to build a pie business and had no idea what I was doing when I started out. I certainly didn't expect to stay in business over thirty years and expand to distribution in 135 stores with national recognition. There were many days I didn't really know what was happening next. I often felt like I had to just put on my football helmet, so to speak, and go for it!

I was born and raised in Kansas and graduated high school in 1955. In 1956, I married my high school sweetheart. It was my dream to be a wife and mother. My husband started out working for the railroad. His first job was in Montana, so off we went to start our life and family together. He worked many years on the railroad and then decided to go to college to get his teaching degree so he could be home more with the kids and me. After our fifth child was born, a friend of his strongly urged him to drop everything and become a full-time preacher at a church he knew of in the South. So we picked up and moved to Alabama. After about five years, he became as anxious to get out of the state as he was to get in. We discussed where to go next, and I said I always loved the West Coast.

My husband had a school mate who was the president of the Western Region of AT&T. He reached out to his friend, who offered him a job in California. We didn't have much money, but we had enough to buy the old church bus, and so we loaded up everything we owned and headed west. We ended up in the quaint town of Julian, located just north of San Diego in the beautiful Cuyamaca Mountains, known for its agriculture — and particularly its apples. When we arrived, we were flat broke, but we managed to find a little house to rent on the top of a steep hill. That old bus was so rundown that we would hope and pray it would make it up the hill and then stop once we got there. And sometimes it didn't. We sold that old bus as quickly as we could once we got there and purchased a car to get us around town.

My husband started his new job right away, but I knew I would have to go to work to help make ends meet. After all, we had seven mouths to feed. I answered an ad in the paper for a position at a small bakery in town that was owned by a blind couple. The man was completely blind, and the woman was legally blind, so she had some sight, but she could no longer manage the bakery. I didn't have any work experience at all, but I told them I baked with my mother growing up. They said, “No problem. We will teach you everything you need to know.” And they did. Both of them being blind, they explained to me everything about the store and then left me there to run it all by myself. It was up to me to bake, clean, serve, and sell. I gave my whole heart to the task and started by scrubbing the place from top to bottom. I made curtains for the windows and treated that little shop as if it were my own. In fact, people started thinking it was my shop because I invested so much heart into it. At the end of each day, I would take the money out of the cash register and put it into a small coffee can and drive it to the owners’ home in the country. I would stay and make them dinner and help them with whatever they might need at the time.

After a couple of years, a BBQ place opened on the other end of town. They offered me an extra dollar an hour to go work for them baking their pies and biscuits. An extra dollar an hour at that time was substantial — an offer I couldn't refuse. I went back to my bosses and asked if they would be willing to match the offer to keep me, especially since I was doing every single job in the pie shop. They declined and opted to hire someone else, so I left and started working at the BBQ restaurant.

After some time working at the BBQ restaurant, the owner of another place in town asked me to come work for them and they offered me another pay raise. This place was right in the middle of town and highly visible. It was also busier than any place I had worked before. There were windows to the street where people could look in and see me making pies.

By this time, I was developing a following of people who would come to wherever I was and buy whatever I would bake. I baked by a simple principle: You never make your best pie, because the next one will be even better.

One day, a man came in from Costco and pulled me aside and told me he wanted to buy the pies I was making and sell them in his store. I said, “Thank you so much, but I just work here. I don't own the business.” He said, “That's okay. I want to buy your pies.” I was a bit surprised and not sure what to say. He gave me his card and asked me to think about it. I was flattered by the offer, and it planted a seed in me. I started thinking ... I knew every recipe by heart for every place I ever worked. I never shared those recipes with anyone; however, I knew my mother's apple pie recipe was better than any other recipe I ever made. I started thinking about what it would be like to make and sell my own pies, making them the way my mother taught me.

You see, I was the youngest of eight children, so I got to spend a lot more time with my mother in the kitchen than some of my other siblings did. When I was just four or five years old, she would let me step up on a box in the kitchen while she was baking. She would give me the leftover scraps from her pie crusts, which I would roll out and cut into a tart using a Mason jar lid. I would then place a slice of apple in the center and fold it over to make my own mini apple tart. Those memories are still fresh in my mind today, and that little nudge from my mother in the kitchen so early on is what fueled me to be where I am.

After the visit from the man from Costco that day, I went home and started to talk to my neighbor about it all. She happened to have a sister who worked to help people set up small businesses, so it got me to thinking more seriously about my next steps. Not only that, her husband was a contractor and builder. By this time, I was fifty years old, and it seemed to be the right time to finally open my own pie shop.

My husband wasn't so thrilled about the idea at first. He was still working for AT&T and had the opportunity for a promotion in LA. He didn't want to let go of the security we had, plus he thought for sure I was going to bankrupt us. But I never gave it a thought that I might fail. I was so confident that my pie recipe was better than anyone else's that it never came into my mind that it wouldn't work.

My husband finally came around, and in 1986 we found a little house on the edge of town and turned it into that first pie shop. Because I had developed a following over the years, my business started with a bang. We were constantly busy from the day we opened and immediately became profitable. The whole family helped out back then, too. My youngest two were in sixth grade and seventh grade. They laugh now because I paid them a nickel or a dime for each pie crust they rolled after school. The kids would roll the dough and my husband would take the “dough” to the bank. We used to tease and call him Ol’ King Cole. It probably goes without saying — he retired early.

It wasn't long after the store opened that people started asking about wholesale and where they could find our pies to share with friends and family, so we considered expanding.

We had to learn the wholesale business step-by-step by ourselves.

We didn't know anyone who had done it before, so there was no one to ask. I started out by approaching Harvest Ranch Markets, a local gourmet grocer. I baked three or four pies and took them over to the manager and gave him my sales pitch. He said, “We already have Julian Pies.” He had been ordering from another pie maker in the area. I looked at the box of my pies and looked at him and said, “Well, we made these special just for you.” He took the pies to be polite. The very next day he called me and placed an order, and we never had to try to sell another pie after that. Store after store wanted them because people were asking for them by name. We now have more than 130 stores we deliver to in San Diego three times a week. We are at Albertsons, Stater Bros., Aldi, and many others. One day, we even heard Dr. Laura Schlessinger bragging about our pies on air during her national radio show. She's a regular customer now and a good friend. Her favorite pie is the Natural made with Golden Delicious apples and sharp cheddar cheese. She is a wonderful patron, and it was always fun to hear that she was trying different pies and talking about them on her show!

It's amazing to think what has happened since that first pie so long ago. I'm not involved as much as I used to be in the day-to-day operations. My sons have taken over the business at this point and my youngest is the CEO. Now, during certain seasons of the year, you can hardly get into our shop. We've maintained our quality and consistency even as we've grown. And if you think our apple pie is good today, wait until you taste it tomorrow.

From YOUR SECOND ACT: Inspiring Stories of Reinvention. Copyright © 2020 by Third Coast Productions Inc. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc.

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