The Life of Windowsill Pies
Among other appellations, New Orleans is often described as “the most European city in America.” A particularly tasty example of this cultural claim can be found uptown at 4714 Freret St., in the form of Windowsill Pies.
Co-founders and owners Marielle Dupré and Nicole Eiden were intentional about adopting the continental model for their operation. “We definitely wanted it to be a European-style café,” explained Dupré. “We’re open early in the morning for coffee, and late in the evening for beer and wine. We have savory pies and quiches to go along with the sweets.”
While the café opened in October 2020, the business itself started nine years earlier, then followed a winding path to its popular storefront. The two partners actually met back in 2005, while waitressing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Dupré then left for San Francisco, where she attended the CCA Culinary Academy to hone her baking skills. After returning, she served as assistant pastry chef at Bayona and worked in the bakery at the Whole Foods on Arabella.
The two friends stayed in touch over the years, until “one day in September 2011, Nicole called me up and said she had this idea for a pie company,” Dupré remembered. “I said yes right away, and that weekend we were testing pies at her house.”
The pair began by selling their concoctions to friends, family and co-workers. The positive reception led them to rent a restaurant kitchen after operating hours and really push forward as a business.
“Our first market was on the Northshore, Covington Market,” recounted Dupré. “Then we got into the Whole Foods on Broad Street, which gave us a steady market and legitimacy. By that point we were too busy to drive to Covington anyway!”
Adding a few more outlets for their pies created slow and steady growth, and they moved their baking to a community kitchen that was available at all hours. However, both partners had other jobs at the time, and they realized the moment had arrived to take the next step.
“We looked a long time for a location,” Eiden recalled. “It had to be the right size at the right price, and we wanted to serve beer and wine.”
While the Freret Street location was a good match, actually setting up shop required overcoming numerous obstacles, including size, construction setbacks and challenges with state variances. To top it off, “we rented the space in 2019, right as the city’s computers got hacked and the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed, which changed the city’s permitting process,” said Eiden.
Windowsill was finally set to open in March 2020, only to run up against the pandemic. “We almost had order in our chaos when everything shut down,” Eiden remembered ruefully. “We finally opened as to-go only in October 2020, which was not our original business model.”
By all accounts, it was worth the wait. Already having won recognitions such as “Sugar Showdown Champions” on the Cooking Channel and the “Official Pie” of Waitress the Musical New Orleans, Windowsill earned the “Best of Show – Sweet” in the 2021 New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.
More to the point from a business perspective, the café enjoys a steady stream of satisfied customers with happy taste buds. Dupré and Eiden combine unique variations on traditional favorites with highly original recipes, all with a focus on local ingredients.
Windowsill’s signature dish is a vanilla bean bourbon pecan pie (though the Maker’s Mark bourbon is admittedly non-local). Second on the list is a dark chocolate tart infused with caramel. Dupré’s personal favorite is the passion fruit tart, which she described as “a tropical version of a lemon tart.” Eiden is partial to the seasonal blueberry honey pie, prepared with local blueberries and lavender-infused honey.
As summer crops are harvested, Windowsill is also baking summer vegetable pies, the better to compliment the beer, wine and mimosas on the menu. The café selections change frequently, based on the availability of the fresh local ingredients. For those dining at home, serving suggestions are offered on the Pie Gallery” page of the business’ website, windowsillpiesnola.com.
In addition to relaxing at the comfortable Freret location, pie aficionados can enjoy Windowsill’s treats to go, or have them brought to their doorsteps via the major delivery services. Catering for weddings and events is also offered; Dupré noted that “weddings are stacking up because people didn’t get married during the pandemic. If you want to get away from just a tiered cake or to have a dessert bar, pies are a great option.”
Windowsill Pies describes itself as “Southern styled, French inspired, New Orleans baked.” That tantalizing combination definitely sounds like a recipe for success.