Chat with Diana from This Pie Is Nuts
Often times these stories begin, "I met so and so at a really important time of my life..." and then the story goes on with a surprise twist about a bank heist or ends with, "and then we got married." The story of how I met Diana from This Pie Is Nuts is as innocuous as it comes. We never robbed a bank or got married, but the subtle impact her she, and her products, has made on my life is far greater and deeper than any big story.
I found TPIN in a little coffee shop (Astoria Coffee) on a quiet side street in the middle of Astoria, Queens. I had just discovered the magical effects of eating healthy, good foods and having good reactions to them, a reality I had avoided for a large part of my life. I was trying to get my hands on anything branded "Paleo", almost to the point of obsession. Surely, I thought, it would be nearly impossible to find anyone or any product out there with the Paleo moniker stamped on the packaging. Surely, I thought, I was the only one who knew of the benefits of eating well. So when I found TPIN granola in the adorable coffee shop, I was hit with two realizations: 1) I'm not the only person out there who discovered Paleo (Columbus syndrome?) and 2) I had to meet the person behind the product because that ish is DELICIOUS.
I could end the story here with the interview below and a little anecdote about finding a like mind in the health space and reminding you to eat your veggies, etc etc. But this interview is so damn inspirational, I urge you to read every word of it. Because this isn't just about me discovering Paleo and then finding TPIN and then eating a lot of pie. This is about being good to yourself. This is about persistence and strength. This is about finding the little, unassuming path in a mess of weeds and thorns and taking it. Jumping into the unknown. Two feet. Let's go.
So how did you know you wanted to start This Pie is Nuts? (I didn't know you went to the Natural Gourmet Institute!)
You know it’s sort of funny. So many roads led me here and I had no idea I was going to get to this place. In fact, it used to be a joke that I couldn’t cook and people would give me cookbooks as jokes.
I got diagnosed with MS when I was 25 years old. And the doctor, the neurologist said, at that time, said there’s no cure, which there still isn’t, and he said there’s not much we can do, we can help slow it down with some medications or whatever. I was 25 and I thought I don’t want to. We don’t know what that does to your heart or what that does to your liver. Those medications do something. So I said I’m not ready for that and I decided to clean up my eating as much as I could and I was like if I work out, clean up my eating, I can do this. So for 20 years after I got diagnosed my body was working and everything was functioning the way I needed it to. And I never told anybody, for the most part, that I had it because I was an actor and I thought I don’t want somebody to see me as weak or as sick. You know sometimes when you hear somebody has something, that’s the first thing that you ever see when you see them. And I thought if I tell people I have Multiple Sclerosis, they’re going to look at me different and I don’t like it.
But after the twenty years of having it, I thought I need to pay it forward. It made me feel empowered and it made me feel like even though this disease is still renting space in my body, I feel like I’m doing all I can, right? So I thought I need to pay it forward but I don’t know how.
Then you discovered the Natural Gourmet Institute?
I had been interested in a couple of their one-day classes. And one day was like, "I know I could learn a lot here and I don’t know anything." And they taught a lot about nutrition. It wasn’t just about knife skills. You walk out with information and all different takes on that information. Every chef is different there.
So I did the five months full time and it was amazing. I met a lot of great chefs. I’m still in contact with almost everyone in my class. And, I got out and thought maybe I’ll work for kids or cook for people who have something, but it never really clicked. I never really found anything that I wanted to do.
So you didn't go the traditional post-culinary school route?
In all honesty, I was in my apartment and my son doesn’t really tolerate dairy very well and I thought, "you know what, I now have gone to a school where they don’t use traditional products. I’m going to make my kid a pie. I’m going to make him pie with no dairy in it because I know how to do it." And I just kept playing with it and it took, it literally was a year later, I had played with it so much that by the time I had really nailed the no dairy thing I thought, "I’m going to take out eggs. I wonder if I could make it with no eggs." And I took those out. And then I took this out, and this out, and by the time I was finished I had a pie made out of nuts. I was making them all the time and so my neighbors were trying them. And they were like, "this is really good, can I buy one?" And then I thought maybe is this it?
Where did you begin selling your pies?
My first place I ever sold was LIC Flea and food. I was so nervous walking into the office like, "I make these pies out of nuts." And they were like, "what?" I was like, "they’re made out of nuts, and I don’t know if they’re good because my friends like them but they’re my friends." So that was the first place I ever sold.
I love it! How did selling your pies at LIC Flea impact your TPIN brand?
It became interesting to me because I started to tell my story and I started to tell people I had this disease, and it opened up all these conversations with strangers. And it was kind of like we were almost empowering each other. And I thought I’m not going to be coy about it anymore, I’m going to talk about it all the time because there’s such a sense of community. And it’s not just people with MS, everybody’s got something that they’re dealing with, whether it be depression, anxiety, cancer, doesn’t matter. We all have something and its nice to know you’re not the only person with something, and no matter what it is you got to take your power back. You got to do something for yourself. It’s such a quick fix society. We’re always like, "can you make me better?" or "can you make me thinner?" or "can you make me not sad?" But we have tools and it’s nice to be able to use them.
Did you try to adopt a certain diet when you were developing your pies?
When I first made the product, I had no intention of make it vegan, gluten free, or Paleo. I just like nuts. And so when I was at LIC, a bunch of people came up who had gone to a Crossfit class. And they’re like, "can I see your ingredients?" And I showed it to them. And they were like, it's Paleo!" And then from there, I went and talked to the Paleo Foundation and asked, "should I get certified? How does that work?" And the same thing with the vegan.
You found your audience! Would you say you're catering to people who want to eat clean, raw, natural foods?
I’m a plant-based person. I think plants are the thing we don’t eat enough of. Even, it’s funny, even Dr. Terry Wahls, who is big in the MS community (she does a Ted Talks that will blow your mind, I don’t know if you’ve seen it), has MS and she follows the Paleo diet. But she realized that although she was eating clean and eating Paleo, she needed to increase her vegetables to like 6 or 9 cups a day. She realized she was missing all the micro-nutrients. And it was kind of fascinating to me when I read that. I was like, "you know she’s right." Now do I do that all the time? No. Sometimes do I forget to eat and I eat a pie? Yes, absolutely. But it’s a wonderful goal and it’s something I try to eat. So that’s my gig. I just want to eat nuts and seeds and plants as much as I can. Like I said, do I? Oh God no. No.
But I feel like your product is almost like a gateway to that lifestyle for people who are maybe on the cusp of figuring all that out, but who still wanting their dessert.
Yes and it’s so funny you say that too because that’s something else that I’ve learned and instinctively we all know it. Especially when you’re talking about dieting, we give things up. Or if we can’t have dairy anymore we give it up. And then you go to the grocery store and you buy a bar, a granola bar and it says key-lime pie on it. But there is a lack of consistency. Like when you want a piece of pie, you want a piece of pie. You don’t want something that has pie flavor. So the thing that excites people most about this product is if they want a piece of pie, they can have it. I have customers that say they can’t have dairy and they can’t have eggs and they can’t have gluten. I’ve met many people who will give me a list that’s ten to fifteen items long of things they can’t have. And I’m like, "you can have this." And then they’re like ‘I can have a piece of pie?’ And it’s even gone to an extreme. There’s a customer of mine who came up to me, and she was like I love your fruit pies – and they’re Paleo certified as well – but she has to be on such a specific diet, she can’t have cashews, flax seeds, arrowroot, or any sweetener of any kinds. And so basically, like a couple of almonds, walnuts, and a couple berries and that’s ot. But she and I had got to talking and she was like sometimes I can tolerate your fruit pies because they’re so clean. But she gets nervous eating them thinking one day it’s going to be the one that she has a bad reaction to. So I said well let me make you a pie, let me see if I can figure something out. And so we made a pie, it looks like a blueberry pie, it has crust like a pie, and it kind of might be my favorite. It’s delicious. But it cuts like a pie, and you take a slice of it and put it on your plate. So kind of getting to my point, is what you had said before, is everybody wants to feel like a human being. So whether you can’t have dairy or eggs, you still want to eat like everyone else. So, there’s a human factor to these factors too. Like maybe you can’t have this or this, but you want to be like everyone else at the party and not be like, "no I’ll just have water because I can’t have eggs’ or ‘did that touch gluten’ or ‘was there a cutting board that had bread on it?’. Like these are made in kitchen and we’re super strict. You can’t have lunch in there if it’s got gluten. If it’s not vegan, you can’t bring it in. There’s a high respect for – like I have a lot fo people who are not just eating vegan, but there’s an ethical reason for it. So no animal product is ever allowed in our kitchen for that reason, as well. I don’t know. There’s just so many important…and it keeps growing for me. I don’t know it’s been interesting.
Where do you see This Pie is Nuts going? I guess you started with pies, and now you’re on granola. Are there any other products that you can speak about that you’re interesting in producing? What are your future goals?
You know it’s so funny. I have talked to a few people who I really respect and I’ll say something like ‘well we could do This Cookie is Nuts.’ And I’ve had some really wonderful people say ‘get your pies out first and your granola, you’re the pie lady’. And it is interesting, I always tell people that I’m like the girl like if I see something shiny over there, I’ll go to it. Luckily, I’m surrounded by people that have helped me stay the course. Not as much as they like me too. But I want this product, the products that we have now, I wan them out. But it’s a slower process than even I like to care to admit that it is. Like you and I had spoken about just refrigerant and getting something shipped, and if you’re not a big company, you’re not going to get the benefit of the pricing that other companies get. There are people who get investors and people who get co-packers. And as much as all of those things are wonderful, they take a really long, long time. I think though, that This Pie is Nuts is going at a really great speed, considering we’ve only been in business for about two and a half, almost three years. We’re doing all right. Even social-media wise, like our name is getting out there. Can we get to everybody yet? No, but do we want to? Yes. And I know we will. It’s coming.
Do you find the challenges of owning your own business to be overwhelming or daunting?
I’ve actually posted this on Instagram. There’s that quote that says, "you got five minutes to cry, then get up." And I do believe that. Because like I was telling you before, a lot of people see my posts and are like, "you’re so lucky" and "you’re always doing this" and the things that happen that I don’t share during my day sometimes would put people in a tizzy and not want to work ever again. And it’s certainly there for me too but I won’t let it sit there for long. But I guess my point is that those things do exist for me. Those problems exist daily for me, I just don’t like the idea of them bringing me down when I’ve worked so hard. And I want to earn it. I want to earn it. If it takes having really crappy days or things happen or stores closing or whatever, refrigerators breaking down, you know I’ll get there in five years and I’ll have earned it. And then good for me, otherwise I don’t want it.
Social media is all curated anyway. Everyone just wants to show the best side of whatever is going on.
Of course, that’s why I try to not always show my best, best side. I feel like we’re just– that’s why sometimes my stuff just isn’t pretty. You know, life just isn’t always pretty. And I don’t want to be – why pretend that it is? Just not into that. And I certainly try to show my best side too, or else who’s going to follow you or want part of you? But I think people appreciate honesty just in general, I do.
Especially with products like yours, you kind of have to be honest with what’s in it. You have to be honest with the kind of products you’re using. I think that kind of ties in nicely with you as a person and your brand and everything you stand for.
That’s awesome. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Going back to Crossfit, because I can't get enough of it. To what capacity are your products beneficial to the sports community?
You know, it's one of those things where I don’t know enough about sports nutrition. I’m learning as I go, I think. And it’s interesting, the biggest thing I think for the sports community is going back again to the idea that they just want to have a fucking piece of pie. They don’t want the pie-flavored protein powder, and as much as we all drink that stuff and its awesome and I’m grateful for it when I want it, but when everyone else is having a piece of pie, you want a piece of pie! You know, they’re doing a show soon or they’re training for some upcoming competition, and they don't want to ruin all of the work they’ve done. I guess where my stuff comes in is it’s not going to ruin the work you’ve done, and you get to have a fucking piece of pie. It’s so funny, we sponsor an athlete and last Thanksgiving he ate regular pie and this Thanksgiving he was like, "no thank you." And he just had broccoli and chicken and all he wanted was that piece of pie, but he couldn't. I think there’s a mental thing too, if you have a piece of pie that's not your normal way of eating, there’s a mental block too like, "oh crap I’ve ruined it" or "now I have to start over again" or "how am I going to work that off?"
And your body reacts to it.
Right! And they want a piece of pie so bad because they just want a piece of pie on their plate, and they eat it and they know full well they’re going to feel sick, but they’re like, "I just want to be like everyone else for five minutes." And then they will eat it, knowing full well they’ll be sick for four days. And I think the great things about these, and I even posted this morning, these aren’t just for Thanksgiving. They’re for everyday. Because every day you want a piece of dessert or you just want to feel like a human being. So you can sit around your Thanksgiving table and eat pie and then you can sit around January 3rd, when you’re supposed to be on a diet, and you can eat pie. And that’s why people have said to me too, "why are they individual squares?" Because that’s all you need! You just need a piece of pie. That’s it.
I love that. It’s almost like you’re allowing people to be human but also not to indulge excessively. Because I feel like as much as we want that piece of pie, we’re being dictated on how big that piece of pie should be by other manufacturers or bakeries who are making individual slices. So they give you this huge piece and you’re like I kind of want a little bit in between. I want to be able to have the pie but also not limit myself to half of a slice. I want to eat the whole damn thing.
Exactly, and that’s the thing too. I think this friend of mine said he had like ten pieces of pie at Thanksgiving. Like he literally sat and ate ten pieces. When I brought them here the owner ate three pieces. He just sat down and ate three. But there’s no…you don’t get the stomachache. And like I said there’s a mental thing. You haven’t ruined the work you’ve done. You mentally know ,"I’m eating something that’s alright." They’re not crazy-sweet on purpose, I’m not a big fan of over-sweetened things. So you can have a fucking piece of pie.
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