You could say that the idea for Vermont Mystic Pie has been in development for twenty years, the period of time that David Barash has been involved helping to start and run a variety of progressive businesses, most of them food companies. In fact his love of pies goes farther back then that, to the 1960’s when, as a boy, Dave spent many hours helping his Mom make pies from scratch.
Fast-forward several decades from to December 2002 and a serendipitous cross-country flight. Dave shared the flight with his longtime colleague and friend Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. Dave worked in senior management at Ben & Jerry’s during the significant growth period between 1985 – 1994. Over the years the two kept up their friendship.
“Ben had been thinking for quite some time about pies as a new venture and I was ready to launch another food company that used the harvest from Vermont’s farms and fields, bringing together the best of Vermont. By the time we landed on the West Coast, I was off and running with the idea for a new pie company,” Barash said.
To get things started, the Barred Rock fund, a socially progressive venture capital fund, invested in the new pie company. Ben Cohen established the Barred Rock Fund with money from the sale of Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever. Chuck Lacy, former President of Ben & Jerry’s, was now President of the Barred Rock Fund and advised Dave in setting up the Vermont Mystic Pie Company. The mission of the fund is to invest in companies that are based on progressive values and sustainable business principles. Dave Barash is the majority shareholder of the Vermont Mystic Pie Company. The Barred Rock Fund is a minority shareholder. Ten percent of the company has been set aside for eventual ownership by a nonprofit organization to be named at a later date.
In doing his research, Dave discovered that there was an excellent opportunity for a premium, all-natural, bake-and-serve pie. Dave wanted his pies to be like the ones he helped his Mom make when he was a boy: all natural ingredients, flaky butter crust, fresh baked, hot right out of the oven. That meant it had to be a fresh made pie, frozen immediately, so that the customer could bake it at home and have it come out of the oven, fresh and hot, ready to be served.
Dave also discovered that the Vermont apple market was down 40% in the last 15 years, in part because of the erosion of the VT utility apple market. Utility apples are the ones that go into products such as pies and juices. This influenced Dave’s decision on which apples to use. He chose apple varieties that were good for making pies and in more supply than demand. By creating an added value market for Vermont utility apples, it would contribute to rebuilding the Vermont apple sector.
To find the best apple pie recipe, Dave literally searched throughout Vermont’s hills and valleys. He went to all the county fairs to seek out the blue ribbon winners of pie baking contests. He ate a lot of pies. He reviewed a lot of recipes. He sought the advice from Vermont’s best pie makers. He even held a statewide contest to find the best recipe. He got help from the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). Through it all, Dave tasted a lot of great pies and he learned a lot about making pies, but he still didn’t have the recipe he was looking for. Dave wanted an all-natural pie with a flaky butter crust, a flavorful combination of Vermont apple varieties, and subtle seasonings.
In the end, Dave got tremendous help from King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT. He went to baking school there. Steve Voigt, King Arthur Flour’s President, offered Dave the mentoring services of senior baker Jeffrey Hammelman. Dave and Jeffrey worked together to create the pastry-like crust and seasoning mix for Dave’s pie recipe.
Along the way, Dave gained insights about good apple varieties for pies. He got referrals to where he might find growers in Vermont who grew apples in earth-friendly ways. This led Dave to Bill Suhr at Champlain Orchards. Suhr ran his orchards using strict ecological growing standards. Suhr also had the entrepreneurial spirit Dave was looking for in a supply partner.
After a lot of hard work, things finally came together and Dave had his final recipe for his apple pie. It included the Vermont flavor he wanted using King Arthur Flour, Cabot Creamery Butter and fresh Empires, Cortlands and Northern Spy apples from Champlain Orchards.
Dave wanted to make his pies in Vermont and found his start up manufacturing facility at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Fairfax. King Arthur’s Jeffrey Hammelman referred Dave to a head pastry chef candidate by the name of Laura Nedich, who graduated from the pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America. The interview was primarily a taste test and Laura’s pastries passed with flying colors.
Speaking of colors, before Dave could bring the pies to market he needed packaging and a name. During a brain storming session Dave and Ben decided to walk around and scout out local stores and galleries to find an artistic style that struck them the right way. They found it in Stephen Huneck, the renowned Vermont artist. Huneck loved the idea and came up with some original artwork that had rays coming off a slice of apple pie. “Looks mystical,” someone remarked and it stuck. Vermont Mystic Pie Company had its name.
Dave started distributing Vermont Mystic Apple Pies in September 2004. By early 2005, his pies had earned shelf space in over 85 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey. The pies generally retail for $9.49 - $9.99.
Founder / Owner
Dave has made a career out of working with entrepreneurial and emerging businesses in a variety of general management roles. He has helped lead both start-up and mid-size firms through a range of growth issues. All of the companies have been founder led, socially innovative businesses.
Dave started his career in the mid-seventies with Celestial Seasonings Tea Co. when that company had just begun milling tea. In the late seventies, Dave’s joined Shelburne Farms as Education Director, developing public programming and helping to establish a number of business ventures there based on value added agricultural products. These programs helped support the transition of Shelburne Farms from a magnificent private estate to a public trust.
Dave was with Ben and Jerry's from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties as one of its founding senior executives. During Dave’s time there, Ben & Jerry’s grew from $2 million to $140 million in sales, three factories were established, markets opened throughout the US and the company became a national brand.
Following his time at Ben & Jerry’s, Dave ran Autumn Harp Natural Skin Care Products as Vice President & General Manager. Autumn Harp is the leading brand of petroleum-free skin care products in the Natural Foods category. Dave’s work involved a successful restructuring of the business. Key partnerships were the cornerstone of this business such as one with the Body Shop, developing some of the Body Shops most popular plant based care products.
Dave was instrumental in helping Stonyfield Farm develop a successful certified organic yogurt product line, which now represents a majority of annual sales for Stonyfield. Dave also played a critical role for The Organic Cow of Vermont in the market launch and distribution of the first organic milk in the Northeast. The Organic Cow became the regional market leader in its category, and helped to create the organic milk category nationally.
More recently, Dave was Chief Operating Officer for Organic Commodity Products (OCP), the leading provider of organic chocolate and cocoa ingredients to the natural foods industry. While at OCP, Dave solidified its position with its primary strategic partner, Newman’s Own Organics, the leading consumer brand in Natural Foods. During this time, Dave repositioned OCP, further developing an innovative public-private partnership that broadened and strengthened the supply chain of grower coops in humid tropic regions.Dave has also worked independently with many of the leaders in the natural foods category, clients including: ForesTrade, the largest supplier of Fair Trade and organic coffee and spices in the U.S and E.U.; the Greyston Bakery, a progressive bakery employing the underemployed; Bionaturea's Foods, a leading importer of organic pasta and oils; and Zoë Foods, an emerging brand of nutritional bars and cereals.