He’s known formally as Mr. Dye, but he’s also just Johnathan. When the economy took a dive and he was out of work, Dye turned to pie. Baking – and cooking – is what the Milwaukee native has been doing since he started shadowing his grandmother in the kitchen as a child, but it wasn’t a job option until it had to be. That was in 2012. The first customers of Mr. Dye’s Pies were friends.
The first pies were sweet potato.
“I had a list of friends who asked me to make pie for them,” Dye says. “Every six months, I had to get them off the list.” Starting a business was a good way to do that, with the twist that those people begging him for a pie would become paying customers.
As his orders for the desserts grew, he felt an unexpected gratification, a satisfaction that working in investment sales hadn’t brought. Pie makes people happy. It makes them smile.
Getting your hands on a Dye’s pie requires a phone order (with 24 hours’ notice) or a visit to a local store (Sendik’s in Brookfield), farmers market (Thiensville) or restaurant (Ashley’s Que, Pat’s Rib Place) that carries them. But the pastry man’s objective is to eventually bring pie to the public via a Mr. Dye’s retail shop.
That would make filling the craving for a creamy, not-too-sugary-or-heavy sweet potato pie a tad easier. And it would cut down on the mileage Dye puts on his car. His tastiest creation, to my tongue, is the boldly tart Key lime, a pie that uses, he says, the juice of 35 Key limes. Mystery surrounds the eggplant-like hue of another pie, the “purple monster.” He simply calls it a more sophisticated version of his sweet potato pie, using “trademark special ingredients.”
The Pie Man Speaketh
What’s your secret for getting notables [like Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn] to pose for a photo with a Mr. Dye’s Pie?
I tell them it’s the best sweet potato pie on earth and I want to make sure they have it. And [I ask], ‘Can I take your picture?’ They always say, ‘Of course.’
Milverine – the ambulating barrel- and bare-chested local figure – posed with a pie. How did that come about?
I found him on Facebook. Right away, I was like, I want to find him and give him a pie. [One winter day] I was meandering up Water Street and I see him. I drive right in front of him. He’s looking at me like I’m crazy. I’m looking at him like he’s crazy. I asked him if he’d take a picture with a pie, and we agreed I would come back at 3 o’clock the next day and meet on that corner. There was an all-out blizzard but the plow had come. He agreed to do some pictures with his shirt off. I had my car running so he could warm up but he didn’t want to.
Do you draw on any techniques or inspiration from your family?
I don’t use family recipes, but that passion I have for taking care of people – that comes from my grandmother.