Sweet connection on Avenue C; Tarts team with Girls Club
BY HEATHER DUBIN | There is nothing like a sassy tart. And when it comes in the form of a Magpie, a handmade, all-natural tart with flavors ranging from blueberry and chocolate to salted apple caramel, a seasonal special, you can’t go wrong.
Meghan Ritchie and Paul Jones, co-owners of Magpies, have found a home base at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Sweet Things Bake Shop on Avenue C near Eighth St. and a new partnership with the Girls Club.
A friend of the couple’s who was helping out at the Girls Club told them kitchen space was available at the storefront since the Sweet Things Bake Shop is relocating around the corner.
Sweet Things is moving to the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community, which is currently under construction on Avenue D between Seventh and Eighth Sts. The 30,000-square-foot building is slated to open this fall, and will include a culinary education center and commercial kitchen for the bake shop, and four floors of programs devoted to empowering young girls through technology, arts and science.
Earlier this summer, Ritchie and Jones met with Girls Club representatives who asked if they would teach pie-making and business classes to the girls, in addition to the couple’s using the Avenue C kitchen for Magpies. They readily agreed and set up shop in July.
After a long day in the kitchen, Ritchie, creator of the Magpie tart, recently sat down for an interview about her entrepreneurial start and working with the Girls Club.
She hails from the West Coast and a family of bakers.
“I’ve been baking all my life,” she said. According to Ritchie, her stepdad is a great pie crust-maker and her mom is a dessert master. At holiday family gatherings, all the Ritchies are required to bring desserts.
Formerly an actor and theater producer, Ritchie turned to baking four years ago and sold donuts with her roommate on their Brooklyn stoop. Two years ago, she tried selling scones and hand pies, which are more traditional but similar to pies and tarts.
The following year, Ritchie started working at Anarchy In a Jar, a jam company in Brooklyn, which has a booth at Smorgasburg, a local outdoor food market in Williamsburg at the East River State Park and in DUMBO by Water St.
“The owner wanted something people could eat right there, and she knew I had been experimenting,” Ritchie said. “She let me do what I wanted to do.”
Using company jam, Ritchie made tarts and scones, selling them both at Smorgasburg last April. The tarts were big sellers and they have taken off ever since.
Ritchie took some scones and tarts to local cafes and landed five accounts. People began calling for orders, and the tarts that taste like little pies were a hit. Whole Foods Market now carries the tarts in four locations, and will soon sell Magpies pretzel mini-tarts with different mustards.
“It got so big I couldn’t do it out of my home and Brooklyn anymore,” she said. At this point, Ritchie was also making deliveries on her bicycle.
She needed help, and Jones happily stepped in to assist.
The couple live together in Park Slope, and Jones was easily hands-on for dishes, baking and delivering tarts on his bicycle with a milk crate a few times a week.
“That’s how we basically started,” he said in a separate phone interview. “It wasn’t something like, ‘Let’s start this company together — here’s our plan.’ It was more like, she started doing it, she came up with the concept and I would help as much as I could.”
Jones, who is an actor, is the salesperson for Magpies, and handles most of the marketing and distribution. His kitchen days are not long gone, though, and he frequently wears an apron.
“It’s our company, and we have a personal stake in it,” he said. “You do what you have to do.” However, Jones is not just going through the motions; he thinks the process is “quite a bit of fun” and really enjoys it.
Ritchie wants to convey this to the young Girls Club members, who range in age from 10 to 18. She met a few of them over the summer, and the girls, who bake their own products through Sweet Things, asked Ritchie lots of questions. The new semester for the girls begins this fall, and she is looking forward to it.
As part of their activities, the Girls Club members get to meet female shop owners in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side to learn selling tips and customer service. Ritchie hopes to expand on that entrepreneurial spirit.
“I’m more interested in teaching them how to come in with their own ideas,” she said. Ritchie started out selling her delicacies all alone on her stoop, and wants the girls to know they can do it too. “Try it, or try something else,” she said.
If the Avenue C bake shop space secures a cafe license, there will be a Christmas pop-up shop as part of the class, to teach the girls how to run their own business.
The girls will also work in the kitchen alongside Ritchie and her two assistants, who make about 2,500 tarts a week.
“I think we’re the only ones wholesaling tarts,” she said. The tarts retail for up to $3.50 and last for five to seven days.
Although the Magpie tart resembles a pop tart, they cannot call them that due to copyright law. As children, the couple both grew up eating natural foods, which explains why the Magpie tart caters to an adult palate, and does not taste like an artificial pop tart.
“I’ve never eaten a pop tart. I had no packaged food when I was a kid,” Ritchie said. Her mom worked in a health food store, and Ritchie inherited her sweet tooth from her grandmother. Jones also experienced a similar background in Pennsylvania, and was allowed sugared cereal just once a year.
“It is sweet redemption for me,” Jones joked. “We didn’t have junk as kids, and it’s funny, we’re making tarts now.” But true to their childhood roots, their tart ingredients are all-natural and do not contain dyes or corn syrup. “We wanted to make something that splits the difference between unhealthy and overly sweet indulgence — and something that’s not going to be so terrible for you,” Jones said.
If forced to choose, Ritchie said chocolate is her favorite, but like children, she loves them all. Jones goes for the lemon curd, which he likes to have with coffee at Ninth Street Espresso around the corner on Ninth St. and Avenue C, where the tarts are available for sale.
Getting involved with the East Village community and giving back through the Lower Eastside Girls Club partnership is a bonus for the couple.
“It’s great we’re able to have a space that accommodates us,” Ritchie said, “but it’s more exciting to be in a space that’s affecting girls in the neighborhood.”