A Pie in the Sky Kind of Guy
John Hinman is a pie-in-the-sky kind of guy. A strong believer in pursuing your dreams, John stumbled into his when he tripped and spilled a tray of eight iced teas on unhappy customers at his restaurant gig. He was quickly moved to the kitchen where he decided to start doing pastries because, as he put it, no one else wanted to.
Fast forward a few years and John had worked his way up to head pastry chef for a local restaurant group. Having studied art history and sculpture in college, the artistic expression involved in baking proved a natural fit for him. At the same time, working so many years in the restaurant industry took its toll on his mental health, and he eventually made the decision to leave his job to focus on something even more important – getting sober. Once he spent some much needed time working on himself, he jumped back into the culinary world and purchased an 11,000 square foot bakery to start his own bread bakery. While delivering his orders to clients, he noticed that many of the restaurant workers he passed in the kitchens looked like they were facing the same struggles he did. “It was like seeing my old eyes looking back at me,” he remembered.
On a whim, John decided to open his bakery doors to anyone in the restaurant industry who wanted to talk about their own mental health struggles. A few days before the first meeting, he was certain nearly no one was going to come. But when the meeting approached, dozens of people showed up to talk about where it hurt the most. This was the beginning of Culinary Hospitality Wellness and Outreach, or CHOW, a mental health organization for hospitality professionals that still operates today and hosts weekly support groups for people throughout Colorado.
John continues to support CHOW as its founder, but after the pandemic hit he decided to close down his bakery and start a new baking endeavor. “I was walking down the street, eating a Hostess pie, thinking to myself I can do better than this,” he recalled. Despite all of his years making pastries, pies weren’t always a part of John’s repertoire. To learn the ropes, he decided to enter every pie contest he could find to learn from the masters of the craft – women who had been baking as a hobby for decades. Tweaking his dough recipe every time, he kept going back until he felt he had an award-winning crust. Eager to test it out, John headed to Facebook and made a post asking if anyone would be interested in getting a pie delivered to their home. Immediately the requests began pouring in. He spent much of the pandemic driving pies to everyone he could, and often found that the interaction with his neighbors was even more important than the pies themselves. “Pies have become the way I move through the world,” said John. “They are a conduit that things lead into everything else I do.”
Today, pie is just the product of Hinman Pie, but John and his team see the mission as something much bigger. Customers might order a pie for a wedding, or request a pie made in a loved one’s memory for a funeral. Pies are the center of many life celebrations and holidays, and their significance lies in the memories we have surrounding the pie much more than its flaky crust and mouth watering filling. “There’s some sort of magic in our pies that takes customers to some place they forgot,” John shared. It’s this connection to his customers that John treasures the most – getting to hear stories and share memories that few people get to hear or experience. He brings that same connection to his team, who say it’s not unheard of for John to randomly hand out cash bonuses on a Wednesday afternoon for no specific reason, or buy concert tickets for an artist he discovered after his employees played their music on the radio. “He treats everyone like they’re equal,” said Joy Espinosa, one of John’s core team members at Hinman Pie. “I’ve never seen him treat someone like they don’t matter. And he gives people the chance to talk,” she added.
Customers can purchase pies from Hinman Pie at the Boulder and Longmont Farmers Markets every Saturday through November 18 and online all year at shop.bcfm.org. Now is the time to make your purchase before they sell out for the holidays — Hinman Pie will have apple, pumpkin, pecan, and salted maple pies ready to steal the show at your Thanksgiving table.
This story was produced as part of our Take 5 for Local Farm to Market Masterclass. Photography by Eliza Earle.