Memory forever remains an instrumental aspect of culinary appeal. While science expounds on the fundamentals of the olfactory cortex and addressable memory, upon encountering the wafting scents of sugary caramelization and citrus, we simply experience sensation, often tied to an instant flash of recollection, a specific time and place—perhaps a late-winter kitchen of childhood, a bronze-peaked, oven-fresh lemon meringue pie cooling on the counter—compelled into reminiscence so strongly that we can almost taste the intense lemon, creamy custard and airy meringue touched with faint nuttiness.

At Golden Boy Pies in Overland Park, KS, those sensations still exist, with one bite of the bakery’s lemon meringue pie—or another of its long list of traditional indulgences—potentially sending you for a sweet trip down memory lane.

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A family affair

The Golden Boy Pies wholesale bakery business began in November 1973, eventually incorporating in 1975—and it really is a family affair. Terry Hunt is the founder and president of the company, but he had some help getting into the bakery game. Years earlier, his mother started a retail pie business with recipes she had obtained from her brother.

That brother—Hunt’s uncle—had a restaurant, and that’s where this story begins. “I started in the back of my uncle’s restaurant, delivering pies commercially. I’d bake them, put my blues on and deliver them,” says Hunt. “Then, I’d put my suit on and go sell and get new customers.”

Hunt eventually became plant manager of his mother’s wholesale bakery. After it closed in the early 1970s, he decided to open his own bakery.

As the Golden Boy Pies business expanded over the years, the company rented office and production space to accommodate the growth. In 1987, the company built its own, specially designed bakery in Overland Park. The company found itself running out of space in 2000, so Hunt acquired some adjacent land and grew the operation from roughly 12,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet.

Despite some degree of automation, Golden Boy Pies is still very much a hands-on operation. All products are scratch-made. The pie crusts are produced on a Colborne pie machine, but they’re filled by hand, with fillings cooked in the plant in steam kettles. Necessary cold storage has expanded over the years, and the bakery plans to expand that aspect of the operation further in the coming years, with the goal of eventually distributing frozen products. One recent development at the company was switching from the bakery’s custom Unix software to a new Windows-based system that will integrate billing, production and food-safety information for improved efficiency.

Golden Boy Pies generates about $3 million per year, notes Hunt, and its area of operation has grown through the years. The company is one of the few regional wholesale bakeries still in operation. “We now go to five states with our own refrigerated trucks,” he says. The bakery’s distribution area includes Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, with St. Louis and the Kansas City metropolitan area generating the highest level of sales. The Golden Boy Pies customer range includes retail, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and casinos. The bakery produces an average of 6,000 products per week, but that number can easily grow to over 12,000 leading up to Thanksgiving.

More than just pie

“Half our business is pies, half is cakes,” says Hunt. “We started with only meringue pies when I first started the business.”

But soon customers began to make requests, and the company expanded into other types of pies, as well as cheesecakes, sold precut with paper dividers between the slices. One product inevitably led to another. “After I started making cheesecakes, we received calls for cakes,” says Hunt. “So I got a recipe from my mom for a carrot cake, and started with that, as well as chocolate cake.”

The company’s lineup of cake types today includes round cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes, tortes, coffee cakes (based on the bakery’s spice cake) and mini Bundt cakes. It also manufactures a wide variety of bar cookies, like brownies, blondies and lemon bars.

Both fruit and cream pies are a key part of the product range. The best-selling product at Golden Boy Pies is reportedly its chocolate pie covered with whipped topping. The bakery also makes fruit crisps. All products are preservative-free.

As is the case with many smaller bakeries, Golden Boy Pies is open to special requests from customers as long as sufficient time for R&D is allowed and minimums are met. One recent custom project was developed for the 2014 World Series—which pitted the San Francisco Giants against the Kansas City Royals—when the bakery introduced “Royal Blue” cakes, cupcakes and brownies.

The no-sugar-added line at Golden Boy Pies has a family connection as well. “Fifteen years ago, I found out that I had diabetes,” says Hunt. “And I love desserts. That’s the reason I’m in the dessert business. So I started developing some sugar-free products. I started with sugar-free pies, then developed sugar-free cakes, and then sugar-free cheesecakes.” Aspartame, sometimes paired with maltitol, is his sweetener of choice.

The mini Bundt cakes were added in 2013, instigated by a request from the executive chef at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City. Demand for the little cakes quickly increased. Now, the Kansas City Convention Center regularly orders the mini Bundt cakes. Hunt had his mini Bundt pans custom-developed so he could increase the production rate. Available types include chocolate, red velvet and carrot. “The quality of our products spreads by word-of-mouth,” he says.

Hunt maintains that it’s essential to not compromise on quality, even when it adds to the overall ingredient cost per item. This is a point of differentiation for the company.

This level of quality doesn’t go unnoticed, and Golden Boy Pies has received inquiries about manufacturing private-label products. However, those requests have always been tied to value or national-brand-equivalent (NBE) store brand tiers that would necessitate cost-cutting and ingredient substitution, steps the bakery was unwilling to take. 

Hunt and his team have worked to make many of the products in the Golden Boy Pies range trans-fat-free. However, the bakery continues its R&D in this area, experimenting with new shortenings provided by suppliers. This is due, in part, to industry anticipation of a possible overall FDA ban of trans fats—a removal of GRAS status. So the company wants to be ready if the other shoe falls.

Steady as she goes

Golden Boy Pies knows something about stability within its tight-knit group. “It’s like a family operation,” says Hunt, noting that many of his key employees have been with the business for many years.

Nancy J. Williams, executive vice president, has been with Golden Boy Pies since 1975. Bradley Hunt, Terry’s son, started in the plant, became cake manager, worked as a sales representative, moved onto assistant plant manager and was recently promoted to plant manager. Whenever his dad decides to retire, he’ll take the reins. Jim Patrzykont, assistant plant manager, started at the bakery when he was 16. Patricia McKechnie, customer service manager and bookkeeper, started in sales more than 23 years ago. Scott Fulton, assistant delivery manager, started as a more than 17 years ago. Connie M. Campbell, sales manager, has been in the sales department for more than 20 years. Lena Wiseman, Terry’s daughter and corporate accounts representative, first came to the company as a teenager, eventually going full-time in 2008.

Golden Boy Pies takes pride in its status as an old-fashioned bakery; the team sees it as an instrumental part of the bakery’s allure. This is not a business impacted by flighty trends. Product formulas have changed very little over the years—and years down the road, expect that ship to hold course, steady as she goes. I don’t understand the nautical reference here.

After all, it’s the classics—when made with a timeless, expert touch—that instill those sudden floods of fond childhood memories that drive repeat business. And nobody should mess around with the classics.