The little town of Sherman in northern Fairfield County has a population of approximately 3,600. And while its picturesque surroundings attract outdoor enthusiasts, it is also known as something of a food destination — albeit for a single eatery at the intersections of Routes 37 and 39.
“This weekend, I’ve had people from Norwalk come over,” remarked Bill Hunniford, co-owner of The American Pie Co., which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business. “I’ve had people from Orange, Stamford, lower Westchester. There is a couple that comes in every week from Yonkers. They are great customers.”
Hunniford launched The American Pie Co. with friend and University of Connecticut classmate Audrey Day, with Hunniford focusing on the restaurant side of the operations and Day handling eponymous pastries that are offered both on the menu and in an on-site retail bakery. The restaurant sought to play up comfort food — or, as Hunniford calls it, “Grandma’s cooking” — and its concentration on an appetite-satiating menu that doesn’t dent the wallet kept the eatery thriving when other restaurants had difficulty staying afloat.
“During the recession, we did fine,” Hunniford recalled. “A lot of people didn’t go to the higher-end restaurants, but they still wanted to go out to eat. Here, 50 bucks can feed your whole family, whereas the high-end places are 50 bucks for yourself.”
While the restaurant seats 55 plus 12 more on its patio, it manages to accommodate high volume. “We get between 2,000 and 3,000 per week,” Hunniford said. “For Sunday brunch, we do 300 to 400 brunches, and then do another 100 at dinner.”
Where do these numbers come from? Admittedly, Sherman is not overburdened with restaurants — Hunniford pointed out a local Italian restaurant as the town’s other foodie spot. One menu magnet that Hunniford credits for his success has been the chicken pot pie.
“We have a big eight-inch pie,” he continued. “I can eat it, but most people take part of it home. We sell frozen ones that can be split between two or three people, and we sell a couple of hundred of those a week.”
And with a name like The American Pie Co., desserts are a key selling point: 20 different pies, seven cakes (including four different cheesecakes), and nine assorted cupcakes and cookies. The eatery’s pastries have also earned it attention, with honors from Connecticut Magazine and Yahoo.com for having the best pies in the state. Hunniford noted the latter honor created much confusion for his harried baking staff.
“The Yahoo coverage was two Thanksgivings ago,” he said. “We didn’t know about it. It came out on the Monday before Thanksgiving. After the holiday, we found out about it and realized why we did 40 percent more orders than the year before. We were baking all day, right up until closing.”
There have been a few hiccups in the past quarter-century. The American Pie Co. tried to open a second retail bakery during its second year in business, but that was shut down after a year. And Sherman’s size and location has forced the restaurant to rely on staffing that drives in from as far away as Danbury; both Hunniford and his partner Day have their families working at the establishment.
Nonetheless, being in business for 25 years has enabled Hunniford to enjoy a second generation of patrons. “I’ve seen babies who were born when we opened and they now have kids of their own,” he said, adding that the past quarter-century has also resulted in consistent customer feedback. “Nobody leaves hungry — I’ve never had that complaint in 25 years.”