The Untold Truth Of Bakers Square

Bakers Square restaurants were once very easy to find in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, as well as California (via the company's Corporate Office HQ). Unfortunately, the chain fell on hard times not once but twice in its 40-year history, and now operates just a handful of restaurants.

Bakers Square began as an independent restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa in the early 1970s. Mrs. C's was famous for its double crust fruit pies, meringues, and cream pies (not to mention soups and sandwiches). This homey little restaurant caught the attention of a big corporation, which grew the concept to several hundred restaurants across the country.

Bakers Square says throughout the years and many changes, its restaurants always maintained the "charm and friendly appeal" of the original restaurant in Iowa. The company says they have the "most awarded pies in America" with more than 300 recognitions in the America Pie Council's National Pie Championships. Claiming to serve "The Best Pie in America®," Bakers Square has earned its place in American pie history. Of course, there's more to the story than pie.

They officially make 'the best pies in America'

It takes boldness and confidence to call yourself "the best" at anything, but Bakers Square did just that. On May 29, 1997, Vicorp Restaurants, Inc, owner and franchisor of Bakers Square Restaurants, filed federal trademark registration for the slogan "Bakers Square best pie in America" (via Trademarkia) wit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver. The trademark was officially registered on December 29, 1998. This gives the chain official bragging rights to the "best pie in America" claim.

Why do companies trademark their slogans? According to Gerben Law, a tagline or slogan "can acquire value and play a major role in your business's success." But does Bakers Square really have "the best pies in America"? Such judgments are very subjective, of course. Insider says Bakers Square has the best in Clive, Iowa, but other local pies deserve the honor in other states. These include Mission Pies in San Francisco and Bobo's Pie Shop in Topeka, Kansas.

Pillsbury once owned Bakers Square

According to Bakers Square, this famous, pie-centric chain began with a single restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa around 1970. The restaurant, called Mrs. C's, was famous for its pies, and caught the attention of Minneapolis-based Pillsbury Corp. They bought Mrs. C's and used it as a model for additional restaurants, which it named Poppin' Fresh Pies and duplicated across the Midwest and in California. Pillsbury sold the then 69-unit restaurant chain in 1983 to Denver-based restaurant group Vicorp, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In 1984, Vicorp rebranded the restaurants as Bakers Square. To make sure fans of Poppin' Fresh weren't put off or confused, Vicorp launched a campaign designed to reassure customers that their favorite desserts were safe. Television commercials touting that "We changed the name, not the pie" reassured fans that although the Poppin' Fresh name was changing, the delicious pies remained the same. "We still bake over 20 varieties of pie every day," said the commercial (via YouTube).

They filed for bankruptcy twice

In 2008, according to NBC News,  Vicorp, then the parent company of the Bakers Square restaurant chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing decreased sales and high lease expenses. They closed 56 stores that year, including the original location, the former Mrs. C's restaurant in Des Moines. After the closings, only 45 Bakers Square restaurants remained, down from 148 in 2001.

NBC says that from 2001 to 2010, sales decreased from $220 million to $61 million. In 2009, American Blue Ribbon Holdings acquired the chain from Vicorp. According to Restaurant Business, in 2020, a difficult year for many restaurants, American Blue Ribbon filed for federal bankruptcy protection, closing 33 locations. They cited high wages, declining sales, and increased competition. Currently, the Bakers Square chain is down to 13 units, most of which are in Illinois, with others scattered throughout Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota (per Bakers Square).

The pans are collector's items

Do you have any old Bakers Square pie dishes in the back of your bakeware cupboard? You might want to dust them off and list them online. Believe it or not, Bakers Square pie pans are a resale commodity. Several are listed on eBay. Although the descriptions generally describe them as "vintage," few give the actual year in which they were manufactured or sold. Made of aluminum and embossed with the Bakers Square logo, a single tin can go for up to $13. A rarer, vented, "retired" version of the plate was listed at $9. These perforated pans, which in theory should keep pie crusts from getting soggy, never gained popularity with home bakers because they actually had the opposite effect, and made the pies soggier according to a Discuss Cooking forum.

Despite the ubiquitous presence this chain once enjoyed, there aren't as many Bakers Square pie tins in circulation as you might imagine. According to one seller on vintage resale site RubyLane, pie buyers were able to put down a refundable deposit when they bought a Bakers Square pie to go. They would get their deposit back when they returned the pie tin.

French silk has very loyal fans

Although Bakers Square restaurants serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is, of course, known for its pies, which they boast are made fresh daily. Flavors include cherry, coconut cream, three kinds of apple (country, French and reduced-sugar), pumpkin, two types of lemon (meringue and supreme), peach, southern pecan, strawberry rhubarb, and triple berry. There are also rotating pies of the month, such as mint brownie blast (per PR Newswire) or chocolate hazelnut silk (via PR Web).

But perhaps the pie the chain is best known for is its best-selling (according to Bakers Square) French silk. A Google search yields dozens of copycat recipes for those who want to recreate this rich chocolate pie at home. Fans of French silk can be pretty extreme. Take, for instance, this organizer who was so upset when the chain stopped adorning the pie with chocolate curls (they substituted chocolate chips), she started a petition to bring back the chocolate shavings. Calling the switch "complete craziness," Betsy writes, "You go to eat the delicate pie, and you are crunching on hard candy!" We (sort of) get it.

They celebrate Pi Day as well a Pie Day

Bakers Square promotion teams have two opportunities to celebrate sweet desserts in flaky crusts (pies!): Pie day and Pi day. "Mathematical Pi Day," March 14 (as in 3.14, when we math geeks and mere mortals alike celebrate the ratio of the circumference of any circle to the diameter of that circle) gets celebrated at Bakers Square restaurants with $2 off every whole pie. They add to the fun by baking into their pies (the ones with top crusts at least) the Greek letter and symbol for pi (via Facebook). Of course the chain celebrates National Pie Day (as in the apple, cherry, lemon meringue and more) each January with whole-pie discounts.

A side note: Every Wednesday is Free Pie Day at Bakers Square. To drum up mid-week traffic, the chain has long offered a free slice of pie with purchase of a meal and beverage. A great way to celebrate "hump day" and satisfy your sweet tooth.