Dining » Fat Mouth

Pie and Dry

Pie-making lady Marcia Prentiss hopes for a bigger piece.

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The four-month-old Segafredo Zanetti Espresso (see review) is no more a "coffee house" than the American Restaurant is a snack shop. In less-complicated times, a coffee shop was a place where diners could order a potent cup of java from a fairly simple menu: grilled sandwiches (if there was a grill), soups and pie.

These days, Marcia Prentiss is struggling to keep business brewing in her two-year-old Pie Lady Coffeehouse (13408 Santa Fe Trail Drive in Lenexa). There, Prentiss' made-from-scratch pies outsell the coffee.

Prentiss serves Roasterie coffee as well as lattes, cappuccino and fancy java drinks in her narrow shop (where customers sit at two 1940s kitchen tables and read newspapers and magazines while they sip). But she says that a lot of her local clientele is made up of senior citizens -- the coffeehouse is in Old Town Lenexa, after all -- and they don't care too much about coffee. "They just want it to taste like Folgers," she says with a sigh.

So much for making a profit off a mug of freshly steamed cappuccino. Prentiss, who started her career by making twelve pies at home and selling them at Lenexa's outdoor market in 2001, now whips up dozens of apple, cherry, pecan, coconut-cream, French-silk and lemon-meringue pies every day -- and one of the most decadently delicious peanut-butter-cream pies I've ever tasted. Her business is up 30 percent, she says, but she's still finding it hard to get enough customers through the door. Local zoning restricts her from putting up a sign larger than 15 inches by 36 inches. (She got in trouble for putting out a free-standing sandwich board near the street.) "You can only put out so many fliers," she says.

Still, she's not going to let city regulations -- or the bank that gave her a Small Business Administration loan -- worry her right now (even though the bank is, she says, breathing down her neck). Prentiss usually sells about 500 pies during the Thanksgiving holiday, and she's hoping a few of those customers will buy a cup of coffee, too. "Pie and coffee is the perfect marriage," she says.

The former human-resources employee can't imagine returning to the corporate world now that she's found her religious calling. "The more I make pies, the more I realize that this is what I'm supposed to be doing," Prentiss says.

In other pie news: Now that the weather has turned colder, PotPie (904 Westport Road) is selling a lot of its namesake dish. Co-owner Sarah Ponak says that the kitchen -- which finally started making potpies in October -- offers at least one kind of meat potpie every day, typically beef and mushroom or chicken. I've tasted the beef version, and it was better than my grandmother's, which is saying a lot.

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