Mostly Cloudy   68.0F  |  Forecast »

For Mom Wendy Achatz, Life is a Bowl of 'Four Berries'

Meet the Armada mom of five who runs Achatz Pies – a southeast Michigan native who's as homespun as her baked goods

This story appeared in the December 2010 print edition of Metro Parent.
Photos by Kristen Hines

How do you invent a signature, mouth-watering dessert like the Achatz Handmade Pie Co.'s Michigan Four Berry?

One word: Oops.

"It was an accident," recalls Wendy Achatz (rhymes with "jackets"), who had a bit of leftover raspberry, blueberry, cherry and blackberry filling.

"We threw it all in a bowl and stirred."

About Wendy Achatz

Nearly two decades later, the result still earns awards and lures devotees to her family's seven (and counting) local shops. Ditto for some 36 other varieties, from luscious creams to hearty potpies. At about three pounds and $14 a pop, they're crafted the old-fashioned way: finger-crimped crusts, preservative-free and from-scratch Michigan ingredients. Just like when Wendy started selling them in 1993 from a van at a Macomb County flea market.

But success has been no mistake for this Armada mom of five – despite the fact that her flavorful tale begins with canned soup, instant mashed potatoes and KFC.

Raised on welfare by a single mom in Mount Clemens in the '60s, Wendy admits her mom "wasn't a baker or a very good cook." The first real taste of home cooking came at age 10: Her mom remarried an Italian man who loved baking bread and pizzas.

Then, things took a Little House on the Prairie-style turn: The family abruptly moved to 300 acres in Tennessee to "live off the land." With no plumbing or electricity, Wendy and her little sis helped chop wood and haul water. Step dad worked at a sawmill. Mom drove nearby Amish families into town for groceries.

Learn more about the Achatz Handmade Pie Co. of Southeast Michigan!

"It was a very hard life, but it was a great experience," says Wendy. "I am so thankful for the gift of poverty my parents gave me.

"I don't take anything for granted."

While down south, a home ec teacher also drew out Wendy's natural knack for baking. By age 16, Wendy and her family returned to Michigan, where she moved out on her own and started waitressing at Achatz Family Restaurant in Armada. At 19 she was doing all the diner's pastries and desserts. Not long after, she was married to the owner.

Wendy's Faves

But the defining pie moment arrived about a decade later. Exhausted from the constant work, the couple had sold the restaurant. And, almost 29 and very pregnant with the final of her five kids, Wendy found herself hawking her pastries at that flea market.

"I must have looked like a little old pie lady," she laughs. "I was on my last penny." But by season's end, sales shot from 15 slices to 1,000. And today, you'll find Achatz pies anywhere from Costco to upscale restaurants, all still handcrafted at the company's Chesterfield bake house. They've even been tagged as a Michigan "company to watch."

"There's so much potential. We could open up 50 stores in the next two years," Wendy says. "It's just a really hard balancing act."

Oh, yes: How has she juggled it all with a big brood of five? Her co-founder and hubby Dave, for one. "We work great as a team," she says. "I really lucked out." That covers anything from food prep (he's the early bird, she's the night owl) to home schooling to biking together (she says she's never dieted!).

In turn, her kids, now ranging from their late teens to 20s, have caught the culinary bug, too. The younger boys love cooking. Just like mom, the three girls are all vegetarians (Sarah's vegan). And, of course, they've all helped out over the years – especially during this time of year, when 40 percent of business happens.

"It's our family farm," Wendy smiles. "They've gotta work on the family farm."

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Beach Towel and Picnic Blanket Caddy Craft

Beach Towel and Picnic Blanket Caddy Craft

Looking for an easy, compact way to tote those summer necessities? You're in luck! This simple sewing project makes carting your fabric accessories a breeze.

Socialite Returns Adopted Child to Orphanage for Crying

Socialite Returns Adopted Child to Orphanage for Crying

After only one night in, Romanian socialite Monica Gabor took her adopted son back to the orphanage because the child was too distressed.

Medication Mistakes Common and Dangerous, New Study Finds

Medication Mistakes Common and Dangerous, New Study Finds

Recent findings published in Pediatrics show that nearly 40 percent of parents make measuring errors for their kid's medicine. Why is this happening and what can you do to prevent it?

Craft Roundup: Fun Summer Projects for Kids

Craft Roundup: Fun Summer Projects for Kids

Beat vacation boredom with these four cool ideas from blogs, including Popsicle holders, printable sewing cards, jellyfish handprint bookmarks and more.

5 Tips to Get Your Kids Interested in Cooking

5 Tips to Get Your Kids Interested in Cooking

From picking out ingredients to concocting their own culinary creations, here are a few ways to encourage your children to help out in the kitchen.

Family Picnic Recipes and Ideas

Family Picnic Recipes and Ideas

Head to the park or on a hike and make the great outdoors your dinner spot. Here are six ideas to help you plan your meal – from drink to dessert.

Book Review: Three Fun Summer Craft Reads for the Family

Book Review: Three Fun Summer Craft Reads for the Family

Want a few simple, fun sewing ideas for the kids, projects to brighten up their rooms or maybe just tips for DIY tinkering? These authors have you covered.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement