It’s pie day every day at this new campus favorite, with careful research mixing up a perfect crust.

UNC’s award-winning Certified Executive Chef Aran Essig has been serving scrumptious dishes at UNC for nearly 21 years. Throughout the last four of those years, he and his team have had an extra project in the works: UNC’s new Pie Café at Campus Commons.

Café planning began in late 2015, in conjunction with the discussions of the new building. Essig and his team started by looking at similar cafés throughout the U.S. They began to plan for the shop to exhibit food from cultures all across the world, and to have a distinct “grab-‘n-go” concept. Their work began in earnest when they started trying to come up with the perfect crust for the sweet and savory pies in late 2016. They weren’t just working on one crust — they were also trying to perfect the gluten-free and vegan crusts.

“I got the opportunity to go to Australia,” Essig said, “And our pastry chef Jen Moore visited the U.K. We wanted to find out what each crust’s strengths were and combine the best of all of them.” Moore and Essig also attended several classes last year at the French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College at City Colleges of Chicago.

UNC’s Nutrition and Dietetics programs were also crucial partners in the development of the Pie Café concept and initial menu direction. The students of the program, as part of their Food Science class, did intensive testing on various types of flours, fats, bake times and mixing methods and the effects of those on tenderness and final outcome of pie crust. This data was used in the creation of the final formulation of the pie dough for the Pie Café.

The base recipe was ready early on, but tweaks continued. Essig and his team were still adjusting the amount of each ingredient by minuscule levels until just a few days before the shop opened in January.

The servings at the café will continue to evolve. “What we really want is for customers to come back, of course,” he says. “I’m excited to see what changes are going to happen at the shop.” Some plans are to make pie fillings for lesser-known national holidays such as National Peanut Day, as well as looking at different cultural recipes to make their pies stand out even more.

–Austin Huber