Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! Today’s special guest is Steven Torres, founder and CEO of Pop Pie Co. and Stella Jean’s ice cream. Steven and his husband, Gan Suebsarakham, own the two shops in University Heights, which feature modern takes on American dessert staples: pie and ice cream. Leaning on his background in business and accounting, Steven handles the day-to-day operations and oversees all Pop Pie Co. and Stella Jean’s locations, including expansion, menu development, and management.
Steven walks us through the inspiration behind Pop Pie Co., their first business venture out of the two. When brainstorming what to focus their business on, the duo recognized that pot pie was a staple dish in a lot of cultures around the world but not in the US. Their strong desire to bring the classic dish to the states and present it in a different way led them to dream up Pop Pie Co.
Before pie and ice cream were even a thought in his mind, Steven was trying to navigate his solo move from his small hometown to San Diego. His first job was as a doorman and server at Bourbon Street Bar & Grill, and he also worked the door at The Brass Rail, one of San Diego’s most popular gay bars. Although Steven says that it was intimidating at first, he had great experiences learning about the community and culture.
In fact, it was his love for University Heights that ultimately led them to choose it as the location to start their business. The community there embraced them from day one, and the emotional goodwill they’ve experienced has been carrying them through the pandemic.
Right now, Pop Pie Co. and Stella Jean’s have switched fully to counter service. Steven says they saw a trend toward instant gratification, that people value time as a determining factor of where to eat. With pies and ice cream, their businesses are geared up for that grab-and-go setup.
The opportunity to start Stella Jean’s came when they were approached to take over the lease next door to Pop Pie. They brainstormed what to do with the space—possibly expanding seating for Pop Pie—but Gan’s pastry background and interest in ice cream turned the light bulb on. Steven says it was all an organic process and that if you have an idea, it’s all about how you make it yours.
Going into winter, Steven shares that while he is definitely concerned for the industry as a whole, he believes the fact that hot pies are comforting, quick, and safe will carry them through. With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas not far behind, they are right in the middle of their busiest season, and fortunately, not a lot has changed.
For Thanksgiving, they just announced their annual turkey pot pie. They’ve also begun a presale for their whole pies, which are going out pretty fast. They have five options: vegan apple crumble, salted caramel apple crumble, salted honey chess pie, honey bourbon pecan pie, and pumpkin pie.
In Hot Plates, we have good news all around this week! There’s a new distillery and barbecue restaurant in Barrio Logan: ReBru and Hott Mess. Teriyaki & Bao opened in Carlsbad Village right next door to Blue Ocean Sushi Bar, which is owned by the same company. They have lots of Instagrammable food—namely, bao that look like cartoon animals. In breakfast and brunch news, Fig Tree Cafe is opening in East Village on Sixth Avenue and G Street, taking over the spot where Double Standard was.
In Two People for Takeout/Two People for $50, Troy makes his final ramen pick: the stone soup with brisket from The Whet Noodle. Marie celebrates California spiny lobster season with the lobster plate at Mitch’s Seafood, and Steven picks Soi 30th in North Park, recommending their papaya salad. Also in North Park, David goes with the pretzel grilled cheese at Pretzels and Pints.
Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at [email protected]. And if there’s another patio you think we should record on, let us know.