There’s a movement quietly building in Station West at the corner of Berryhill Road and State Street, and it smells amazing.
The mixed-use redevelopment, located in a former warehouse in west Charlotte’s Seversville neighborhood was first home to Delectables by Holly, run by founder Holly McLelland. In January 2021, McLelland made space in her kitchen for a new concept from Charlotte pastry chef Mary Jayne Wilson called Thoughtful Baking Co. that focuses on pies — pot pies and dessert pies. Then in August, one of the city’s most popular bakers, Christina Rojas, aka The Batch Maker, opened up The Batch House 2.0 in the same building.
Though Wilson is only there temporarily while she searches for a brick-and-mortar location to call her own, the set-up serves her passion for collaboration well. As soon as Rojas moved in next door, she and Wilson teamed up on a peach oatmeal cream pie that utilized The Batch Maker’s oatmeal cookies for a crust, filling that with sweetened cream cheese, fresh North Carolina peaches and topped with oat streusel and a mini oatmeal cream pie.
It’s indicative of how Wilson has approached her first year in business, cultivating the strong connections she built to local and state food producers as chef ambassador for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and collaborating with local bakers and chefs in a way she couldn’t during her nine years working for Amelie’s in Charlotte.
“I feel like there’s so much competition, and during my time at Amelie’s, we were so separated from the local food community, and I think a lot of people saw us as separated,” Wilson explained when Queen City Nerve stopped by the kitchen on a recent morning. “So I really wanted my business to be more integrated and work with some of the amazing people in Charlotte, and I feel like if we work together, we kind of raise each other up versus being on our own.”
Wilson’s collaborative inclinations have been on show during the holiday season. For Thanksgiving, she partnered with Gerald Hawkins, pastry chef at Leah & Louise, on a Thanksgiving Pot Pie that featured cornbread stuffing crust, turkey confit, veggies, citrus herb gravy and mashed potatoes.
For another dish included in her newly released December holiday menu, Wilson teamed with Angry Nani, a local chef who’s known for her Indian spice blends. The duo created a gingerbread chai cheesecake, for which Wilson made a gingersnap crust and mixed cream cheese and goat cheese fillings with her favorite Angry Nani chai blend.
Other options on her holiday menu include pies like Orange Crush, sweet potato praline, apple cranberry lattice, and chocolate pecan. They’re available for online order to be picked up at Station West on Dec. 23-24.
A first-class baker
Wilson was born in Concord and raised in Richfield, a town of less than 1,000 people about an hour’s drive northeast of Charlotte. Though cooking wasn’t a big part of her upbringing, she remembers having an early interest in food.
“I remember in elementary school I wanted to be the kid who brought the cupcakes for the birthday party,” she said. “I loved that.”
She got a taste for working in the restaurant industry while attending Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer and working at Ms. Ruby’s in Gold Hill. She called it “the one little restaurant” in the area that wasn’t a diner.
It must have made its mark, because following her first year in college, she decided to ditch Pfeiffer for Johnson & Wales, becoming part of the first class at the renowned culinary school’s Charlotte campus, which opened in 2004.
She knew upon attending culinary school that she had found her home in the food-service industry.
“Just looking at our classes, it was like Harry Potter classes: breads and rolls, classical French pastries,” she recalled. “I just thought that was so cool. I loved it, and I really got a lot out of it.”
Wilson earned an associate’s degree in Baking & Pastry and a bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management. She hit the ground running, working as a line cook at Rí Rá Irish Pub while still in school, then after graduation taking a job at Zebra, the now-closed fine-dining establishment in SouthPark.
Next, she went into catering, where she first met McLelland, then helped launch MEZ in the newly opened Epicentre, working as sous chef and pastry chef there. She eventually started her own business, called Lady Jayne’s Bakery, before she “unintentionally fell into Amelie’s” when their executive chef left just as she was in talks to lease kitchen space from the French bakery.
When she came on at Amelie’s, they only had their original location on North Davidson Street, and she spent the next nine years helping them open five more locations and learning the ins and outs of restaurant management — the bad and the good.
“I learned a lot about what I wanted to do, and learned a lot about what I did not want to do as far as being a business owner,” she said of her time at Amelie’s. “I knew that eventually I would go back to working for myself again.”
In 2019, Wilson competed in the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association’s annual Chef Showdown, where she won runner-up.
That meant serving as a Chef Ambassador for the state over the next year, partnering with the department of agriculture on events across North Carolina.
“I was always inspired by North Carolina produce and food products, but that sort of networking opportunity allowed me to connect with a lot more chefs and food producers,” she said. “I tried to do some of that with Amelie’s, but it’s just very hard to do it on a large scale. So that’s kind of what inspired Thoughtful Baking Company. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to make, but I knew I wanted it to be centered around North Carolina local food production.”
What’s in the oven
The fact that Wilson launched her business in the midst of the pandemic — right as a winter wave began to keep people home again — played its role in helping her curate a menu.
While she knew she wanted to bake delicious dessert pies, she also wanted to keep some savory items in rotation. Pot pies were the perfect way to do that.
“Chicken pot pies were something that I always made for people; if somebody’s sick or had a new baby, bought a new house, I would always bring them as gifts for people,” she explained. “And it was like the middle of the pandemic, so I was like, chicken pot pies are the ultimate comfort food.”
She began baking chicken pot pies and veggie pot pies along with her dessert pies out of the Charlotte kitchen, and felt a freedom in the fact that she didn’t have to worry so much about appearance as she had for all that time at Amelie’s.
“I went from these years where everything had to be perfect and look so beautiful and shiny to something people can bake in their house, make the whole house smell good,” she said. “It doesn’t have to look perfect as long as it tastes delicious.”
And yet, Wilson’s work is far from ugly. She makes many of her pot pies with a specific pattern, leaving holes in the middle that make them recognizable as hers.
As she explained to Queen City Nerve, however, it wasn’t as much a calling card as a way to alleviate the workload she faced as a new business owner working on her own.
“That style of the pot pies, folding the edges around, that really came from me being by myself in the kitchen for the first few months, and it was easier for me to do one that I could roll than to roll two separate doughs for every single pie,” she explained. “So I just kind of went with that.”
She has since hired three more team members, but kept the signature style of pot pies.
Throughout Thoughtful Baking Co.’s first year, Wilson sold her pies at pop-ups and farmers markets around Charlotte, which she sees as the perfect way to connect with the local food community and meet customers — both regulars and potentials.
Thoughtful Baking Co. sells pies at the Uptown, South End, Regional and Camp North End farmers markets in Charlotte. It was in Uptown where she first met Angry Nani, and has connected with many other collaborators in the same way.
“That’s one of my favorite things about this business is you get to meet those people at all the markets who are hustling just like you are and then you get to use their products,” she said. “It’s been really cool just saying, ‘Hey can we start getting carrots from you?’ There are farmers that will plant the things you want to make food with, so you cannot be more connected to the local food chain than to be part of the markets.”
Though Wilson plans to continue selling her homemade pies at Charlotte-area farmers markets for as long as she’s in business, she does hope to open a brick-and-mortar sometime in 2022. She will set up a pastry case and sell quiche and pot pies hot out of the oven, while continuing to offer frozen pies as she’s done during her first year in business.
In the meantime, she’ll continue cooking up collaborations and new menu items depending on what’s available locally. She’s already eyeing some duck that’s scheduled to arrive in January, building recipes that will work well for her pot pies.
And that’s the nice thing about pot pies, she said: They’re flexible.
“It’s just really fun,” she says of creating new menu items. “You can put anything in a pie.”