It’s been a delicious journey for Kara Romanik, from a high school fundraiser to making the “O List” in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine next month. Romanik, from San Rafael, is the founder and owner of Mamie’s Pies, maker of individually sized, frozen “pocket pies.”
The “O List” is Winfrey’s monthly list of her “Favorite Things,” and Mamie’s Pies will be featured in the Food list for August.
“Being recognized by Oprah is not just an honor for me but for my entire family,” Romanik said. “We’ve remained true to generations-old recipes with fresh, wholesome ingredients, and a little grandmotherly love.”
The company started in 2013. Romanik learned that her daughter’s school dance was about to be canceled due to a lack of funds. Then a stay-at-home mom who did volunteer work for the school, she knew she couldn’t let that happen.
“I don’t say ‘no’; I just figure it out,” she said.
Romanik had been baking recipes passed down by her mother, Mamie, her whole life and got an idea to sell pies to raise money. Her hope was to sell a few apple pies. She sent samples to the school and was inundated with orders for 120 pies.
To bake that many pies at home and still deliver them fresh would be impossible.
“So I talked a local grocer into keeping them in his freezer,” Romanik said. “This way I didn’t have to use preservatives, and customers could bake them at home.”
After a few years of selling traditional 9-inch-sized pies through grocers, Romanik realized that the market for full-sized pies was limited to holidays and special occasions. Seeing few alternatives on the market, she tweaked grandma’s recipes to make frozen single-serving hand-held versions of her larger pies with the same ingredients.
Filling for the pies is sourced from Romanik’s New England roots: apple, cherry, and strawberry year-round and pumpkin in the fall. As the pies grew in popularity — they are in 60 stores around the Bay Area — Romanik scaled the business and found a kitchen in Maine, where they are now made.
“All of our pies are made with fresh New England fruit, and we moved production to Maine to be closer to the source. What’s so very important to us is have our New England pies made in New England. We went through a painstaking process to move production and find the right place to make our families pies. It’s farm to table with a stop in the freezer,” she said.
She also expanded with e-commerce and now ships nationwide. Mamie’s Pies will be offered by Williams-Sonoma starting in September.
“I did it before (the Oprah pick) happened. If I had waited, there wouldn’t have been enough time, and I would have picked the wrong kitchen. I did a lot of research. That’s why we’re ready (for the big publicity),” Romanik said.
Brands lucky enough to be selected to be on Oprah’s lists benefit from a phenomenon known as “the Oprah effect.” In one extreme example, sales of the LightWedge book light soared from $3,700 a day to $90,000 when Oprah added it to her favorites list in 2007, according to several news sites.
So how does one get picked to be on Oprah’s list?
Romanik belongs to the Specialty Food Association, based in New York, which keeps up on new products on the market and believes they sent the idea to the magazine.