What began as a fundraiser turned into a full-time gig for Jim Oliver, owner of Oliver’s Pies in Wheeling.
Jim Oliver learned to make pies in the best way possible: at his grandmother’s elbow. Every holiday, Oliver’s whole family would cram into his grandmother’s tiny three-room apartment. The menfolk typically hung out in front of the TV in the living room, while the women congregated in the kitchen. But every so often, Oliver would slip away from the football games to hang out around the stove.
Years later—thanks to a martial arts competition and his grandmother’s crust recipe—he was able to leave a career making dental crowns and bridges to devote himself to baking full time.
Oliver’s Pies has been a mainstay at Wheeling’s Centre Market for the past 11 years. But even if you can’t make it to the market, you can find Oliver’s confections at Pickles Eatery & Bar in Wheeling’s Fulton neighborhood, Bob’s Lunch in Moundsville, and even Wheeling Hospital’s cafeteria.
We caught up with Oliver to learn more about the life of a pieman.
“My son had won the national championship in taekwondo, and the top three had the opportunity to go to Korea. I had six children and no money, so I was thinking, how could we raise money? The thought came to me about baking pies. The next day I sent the kids out and they took orders.
We did apple, blackberry, blueberry—almost 20 different pies. We made 405 pies. It was enough that I could go with him. For 10 days we went to South Korea, and he won the gold medal. When I came back, people kept bugging me, “Why don’t you open a pie shop?”
I don’t want to say it was an accident, but it was. There was an open spot at the Centre Market. At that time, the market wasn’t full with vendors. Coleman’s Fish Market is in the building next to it, so a huge flow of customers comes through there.
We do about 180 to 190 pies a week. Except for Thanksgiving, when we will do between 500 and 550. I can definitely say I touch every one. I make all the crusts. Barb, my employee, she’ll do most of the pudding. My father is my delivery guy. He’s 83 years old. He shows up at a quarter after six in the morning, and we load the car up and he’s gone. It saves me money. He doesn’t charge me.
We’ve added a few flavors like chocolate pie and chocolate peanut butter, like a Reese’s peanut butter cup. We sell more coconut cream pie—slices and whole pies—than anything. The second best-seller is cheesecake. It’s almost ready to take over the coconut’s spot. About seven years ago, somebody kept bugging me about cheesecake. My wife found a recipe online. We tried it and it worked out very, very well.
I’ll never be rich. But I love making pies.
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