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Utah County couple turns pie into profit

By Carley Porter daily Herald - | Aug 15, 2019
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Crust Club President and founder Valerie Kukahiko poses with her husband Tyler, who serves as the CEO for the company. Crust Club will celebrate the three year anniversary of its storefront location in November 2019.

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Crust Club pies stand ready to be flash frozen, delivered then baked. 

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Crust Club pies stand ready to be flash frozen, delivered then baked. 

A little over three years ago, food blogger Valerie Kukahiko made a chicken pot pie recipe that she loved so much, she felt she needed to do something with it.

So, she started selling the pies from her home in Highland, creating an Instagram page to get the word out. Beginning as “Sweet Jane’s Pie Shop,” after one of her children, her little company later became ”Crust Club.

“We’re all about the crust, the crust is like our main thing … I thought, this is just an easy meal, people can come and I make it, and then they take it home and they bake it and it’s just ready to go.”

Kukahiko began experimenting with different flavors and things, and her husband Tyler noticed how complete strangers were coming to their home to get the pies.

“We were like, there’s a need there for a really good, homemade product (that’s) really easy,” Valerie Kukahiko said. “We’re all about convenience … everybody wants something easy but really good. We just saw there was a need for it and so we thought, let’s figure this out and get it out to the masses.”

The Kukahikos had no experience in food service. Tyler Kukahiko worked in real estate development.

“I thought, okay, let’s see how naive we are,” he said.

The couple began looking for facilities in April of 2016, and opened up Crust Club in Pleasant Grove in November of the same year. Now, customers can pick up orders in the store or have them delivered to their homes the next day.

“It was like drinking from a fire hose figuring out all those regulations,” Tyler Kukahiko said. “It’s been a lot of stress and worry, but you just figure it out … I knew that we had a great product, I knew that we could provide a great service in a different way than maybe done traditionally.”

Crust Club’s industrial kitchen and tiny storefront is tucked away in a low-traffic area of Pleasant Grove. Valerie Kukahiko worked on the business full time for the first year while Tyler worked on it part time, coming on officially in October 2017.

“We said, this is what we really want to do, and we’re passionate about it,” Tyler Kukahiko said.

Now, almost three years after the opening up of a physical location for Crust Club, the Kukahikos have hit another milestone: delivering their pies to states outside of Utah. It’s just Nevada and Colorado for now, but they aren’t stopping there.

“We want to have the ability to be on any and every dinner table in the country,” Tyler Kukahiko said.

In addition to expanding delivery beyond the Wasatch Front, Valerie Kukahiko, who maintains her role as the sole recipe developer, has expanded the menu beyond pies as well. Crust Club now offers “pan dinners” like enchiladas, and even chicken noodle soup. They also started offering pizza.

“I wanted to be my own customer and I wasn’t my customer,” she said. “I love pie, I love our product, but I don’t want to eat a dinner pie every single night. I just don’t.”

After all, she added, Crust Club aims to be able to feed customers every night if they want. The new pan dinners were wildly popular at first, but then customers began reaching out and asking what happened to all the pies. Valerie Kukahiko said they have to strive to find the right balance of both options.

But the Kukahiko’s goal is a little bit bigger than just feeding people — it’s bringing families together over the dinner table.

“The tagline that we’ve really adopted and that we’re trying to push out is, families are better when they eat together,” Tyler Kukahiko said. “If we can provide a homemade meal that you don’t have to drive for, you don’t have to shop for, you don’t have to prep, and you can still eat it at home with your family, then we’re helping to fulfill that mantra.”

Beyond feeding their own families, Tyler Kukahiko said 15-20% of people who order from Crust Club are actually sending it to other friends or family members. Births and deaths are the top two reasons, he said.

“People are choosing Crust Club to send them, either as comfort or as a celebration. That’s a big deal to us,” Tyler Kukahiko said. “It helps us feel fulfilled when we’re providing a service for a product that’s blessing other people’s lives.”

The Kukahikos said they get dozens of messages on a regular basis from people sharing how the gift of a pie really uplifted them in a time of need. Tyler Kukahiko described a personal incident where a woman came into the store and asked to speak with him directly, then shared how after she had suffered a miscarriage the year prior, her sister sent her some pies.

“She started getting emotional and saying how much she loved them and how much it meant to her … she had her other kids and she was just a mess, she couldn’t make dinner, she couldn’t do anything,” he said. “So to have her sister send that … a nice, homemade meal … for her was overwhelming to the point that a year after it happened she came in here and she made it a point to seek me out and tell me about it.”

The couple hopes to figure out a way they can share these kinds of stories with their customers as a message of inspiration. Other things they’re looking forward to is seeing how delivering out of state goes, and Valerie Kukahiko is working on getting back to recipe blogging as a way to connect with the community and serve followers who are out of the delivery zone.

“Our goal is to provide food to people, to feed your family, whether it’s through our Crust Club products or through my recipes.”

Crust Club dinner pies start at $20 for a pie that feeds four people. Delivery is currently available to most Utah, Nevada and Colorado zip codes. View more products and see whether Crust Club delivers to your are by visiting the company’s website, http://crustclub.com.

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