Chad and Gary (Papa C) Collier stand over a stainless steel counter, sharp paring knives in hand. Beneath them lay the remnants of their work, a deep bowl of juicy apple-halves freshly sliced. The peeled fruit will soon be mixed with cinnamon and sugar, then spread into thick dough and popped into the oven.
In their commercial bakery at the bottom of the First Tennessee Bank building on the Public Square in downtown Franklin, the father-son duo is making deep-dish pies—and not just the apple kind: there’s peach and pecan, blackberry, blueberry, fudge and more. Though Papa C Pies officially opened for business in April 2009, the recipe is older than its name’s legacy.
“It all started in my grandmother’s kitchen. My dad [Papa C] is the oldest of five, so he was her right-hand man,” Chad said. “He was forced into kitchen duty, but developed a passion for cooking. Growing up, apple pie was his forte.”
One Christmas not too long ago, Chad asked grandmother Elsie for her apple pie recipe. When the matriarch told him she had never written it down—she picked it up from her own mother—he followed her around that holiday, recording each pinch and pour. After that, he was never seen at a potluck or a picnic without the apple pastry.
The dessert soon took on a life of its own, so much so that it triggered a light bulb in Collier’s head: he could use both he and his father’s knack for baking—and background in business—and turn the pie into a money maker. They began with Elsie’s creation, and began experimenting with their own recipes from there.
“Our flagship pie is apple, it was our original inspiration. It’s also ubiquitous with America,” he said. “It’s a real pie that oozes, there’s no perfect edge when you cut it. The light and flaky crust makes all of our pies. It’s part of the secret recipe.”
“We’re both very proud of the apple,” Papa C added. “We don’t use any preservatives or artificial ingredients. For example, our sweet potatoes are from Mississippi, our pecans are from Texas.”
Now, three years after they opened and perhaps 100 years since the recipe first originated, the Collier men are whipping up more than 15 different all-natural, handmade treats for Williamson County and beyond. Though anyone can order the pastries online or pick one up at their 231 Public Square retail kitchen, Papa C Pies also ships to all 50 states.
Papa C said that their type of pies is a rarity these days, a lost art that has been handed from Southern kitchens to food factories over the years.
“It’s hard to find a quality pie these days,” he said. “No one makes these any more. A machine doesn’t spit out our pies.”
The business has been a labor of love for the two businessmen. It took the team two months of trial-and-error to get their trademark crust just right, and nearly that long to find their cinnamon roll and cookie recipes. But the real challenge lay in the Ghirardelli® Chocolate Fudge pie, a decadent treat that took eight months to find the perfect combination of cacao and sugar.
“I say that there are two kinds of people who like our chocolate pie,” Papa C laughed. “Women and men in the doghouse.”
Papa C Pies offers a range of fruit flavors, as well as classics like rhubarb, sweet potato, chess, pecan and coconut cream pies. The company also makes peanut brittle, cookies, cinnamon rolls and cobblers.
To visit Papa C’s retail kitchen, use the First Tennessee Bank entrance by City Hall on the Public Square. Take the elevator down to the lower level and exit the right through the double doors. For more information, visit www.papacpies.com.