Editor’s note: This article has updated to correct the spelling of Harith Razaa’s name.

Americans eat roughly 50 million pumpkin pies during the month of November, according to an August 2022 article at GoodHousekeeping.com. 

Why pie?

Julie Chernoff, food writer for the RoundTable, speculated why pies are a favorite dessert for Thanksgiving and suggested it might be for a few practical reasons.

“Pies are portable and easy to carry,” Chernoff said. “The prevalence of pre-made crusts make it possible, for those unwilling to attempt making a pie crust, to bake a homemade pie. Pies can be prepared a day or two ahead of the big meal and still be fresh. Pies don’t take up as much room in the oven or the refrigerator as other desserts.”

For those who want a professionally prepared Thanksgiving dessert, Evanston offers several local options, among them:

Sweet Temptations Bake Shop (607 Howard St.) This bustling bake shop is accepting orders for Thanksgiving up until Tuesday, Nov. 22. Their menu of 13 pies includes classics (apple, pumpkin, pecan, blueberry, cherry, peach) as well as some atypical choices such as banana cream, key lime and pineapple.

Juan Oropeza in Sweet Temptations Bake Shop Credit: Wendi Kromash

For those not enamored of pies, they offer a Harvey Wallbanger coffee cake, turkey cakes and tarts of all varieties. Juan Oropeza has worked at the bake shop for four years and said one of his favorites is a fresh berry coffee cake that is packed with blueberries and other fruit. On Thanksgiving Day, the bake shop will be open from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. Call or stop in to place an order.

Comfort Desserts Reimagined (517 Dempster St.) is accepting orders for Thanksgiving through Nov. 20. They offer an untraditional list of pies including pomegranate, key lime, lemon blueberry, classic lemon, passion fruit, guava, purple yam (ube) and chocolate brownie dulce de leche.

Harith Razaa and his assistant Bella Chiocca outside of Comfort Desserts. Credit: Wendi Kromash

There’s also carrot cake, chocolate, hummingbird and spice. For those looking for more traditional flavors like pumpkin or sweet potato, they can be found among the 10 different flavors of bread pudding that Harith Razaa, the owner and head baker, currently features. Razaa predicts their top sellers for the holiday will be key lime pie, carrot cake and salted caramel apple bread pudding. Please note, the store requests a $5 dish deposit for whole pie orders. 

Tag’s Bakery (2010 Central Ave.) At Tag’s, “Thanksgiving is more challenging than Christmas,” according to Dana Anderberg, operations manager for the past 23 years, where every item is baked by hand on site.

Tag’s Dana Anderberg and owner Gretchen Vetter in the store Credit: Wendi Kromash

The bakery’s holiday season starts at the beginning of October and ends on Dec. 25. (The last day to ship orders for Christmas delivery is on Dec. 16.) The addition of seasonal items like mince pie to an already robust list of baked goods available for sale means the days are long. They’ve already switched over to a six-day work week, and some weeks might even require postponing days off. Anderberg said, “We have the hardest workers.”

Fortunately for their customers, this team has been together decades. The baking team, brothers Manuel and Miguel Espinosa, have been with them for 41 and 31 years, respectively. Don Vetter, the late father of the current owner, Gretchen Vetter, hired Manuel Espinosa as a dishwasher and taught him all the different aspects of the baking side of the business. 

Jorge Munez is responsible for all the baked goods that come out of the cookie department; he’s been at Tag’s 28 years. In addition to all of the other cookies, Munez’s team is responsible for producing 6,600 pounds – 3.3 tons – of Florentines, a classic honey, butter and sliced almond cookie that Tag’s has been selling for more than 50 years. Half of that quantity sells in November. Florentines are sold in the store, online, and through a few select wholesale accounts.

Anderberg said, “It’s all about who we work for and who we work with – that’s what makes work enjoyable. It’s a business built on personal relationships. I’m here for the people.”

Bennison’s Bakery (1000 Davis St.) Bennison’s owner Jory Downer loves to come to work. His father, Guy, purchased the bakery from the original Bennison family in 1975. Four of the recipes (pumpkin pie, brownies, fudge icing and pound cake) are the original ones from when they took over the store from the Bennison family. Guy is 98 and still comes in occasionally to help.

Jory Downer beside what he calls “the eighth wonder of the world,” a water jet cutter made in Spain that can cut programmed, intricate designs with precision at Bennison’s bakery. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Downer has been involved with the business from the start. Downer said he takes plenty of vacations, but when he’s in town, he’s baking at Bennison’s. 

Bennison’s is projected to bake and sell about 1,100 pies and 350 dozen rolls for Thanksgiving. Most of the order pickups will be Tuesday and Wednesday. The store is open on Thanksgiving day from 7 a.m. to noon, and yes, there will be stragglers who wait until the last minute to purchase dessert. 

Downer said they stop answering the phone by Tuesday afternoon and just focus on customers in the store. Two of Downer’s grown children, Guy II and Jordana, are bakers and work with him in the store. The RoundTable asked Downer what they eat for dessert on Thanksgiving since he does not bake at home.

“In the past, we only ever ate what didn’t sell. Lemon meringue pie without the meringue. A pumpkin pie that was baked unevenly. Something like that,” he said.  

Do they get a chance to relax a bit after the Thanksgiving rush? Not a bit. Over the next few weeks they will produce and deliver about 1,500 assembled gingerbread house kits (decorative toys and icing included) for a number of country clubs on the North Shore, Downer said.

Bennison’s can handle a large volume of gingerbread houses because of a machine Downer and his staff call “the eighth wonder of the world,” a water jet cutter made in Spain that can cut programmed, intricate designs with precision. Items such as gingerbread, petit fours, cinnamon stars and logos previously were cut by hand with knives or molds. They require clean edges and uniformity. It took hours. Now it takes minutes. It has revolutionized the way they do business, said Downer.

Hewn Bakery (1733 Central St.) specializes in artisan bread and pastries. A limited Thanksgiving dessert menu includes FEW bourbon pecan pie, pumpkin pound cake, caramel apple tart plus frozen pie shells using a cornmeal crust. They also offer rolls, five breads and three “take and bake” items that are purchased frozen and include easy-to-follow instructions. Pre-paid holiday orders must be placed online by 8 p.n. Friday, Nov. 18, Customers can select their pick-up date of Tuesday, Nov. 22 or Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Beth’s Little Bake Shop (1814 Central St.) offers five types of pie (apple crumble, cranberry apple crumble, pumpkin, pecan, chocolate bourbon pecan) for Thanksgiving in two sizes, 9” and 4”. Beth’s also sells frozen pie shells and sugar cookie kits. Last day to order pies online for Thanksgiving is Friday, Nov. 18.

Hoosier Mama Pie Company (749 Chicago Ave.) “This is our Super Bowl,” said said Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Company (which aside from the Evanston store has another location at 1618½ Chicago Ave. in Chicago), as she took a short break to talk about the herculean task of making sure there are 1,700 perfect pies ready for holiday pick up at the Evanston location between Tuesday, Nov. 22 and Thursday morning, Nov. 24.

Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama’s Pie Company. Credit: Wendi Kromash

It is a daunting proposition. The holiday menu features seven sweet pies, three frozen savory pies, two quiches and an assortment of frozen hand pies, biscuits and scones. Haney works with more than a dozen family-owned Midwestern farms plus national vendors for paper goods, pie tins and other essentials. 

If your order isn’t already in their system, it’s too late this year. The store started taking orders on Oct. 1 and stopped on Nov. 1. There is only so much time and refrigeration space available. Most orders are for at least two pies.

The number one pie ordered is, no surprise, pumpkin. Classic apple pie is second and their pear-apple-cranberry pie with walnut crumble is third. This year they added a sweet potato pie to the selection, a new addition to the seasonal menu.

On Thanksgiving morning, Haney enlists her husband and teens to help process pie pick up. And what do they do on Thanksgiving? She smiled and said, “We drive to my mother-in-law’s and she takes care of us.”  And of course they bring pie. 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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  1. Great Dessert Coverage! What a wonderful reminder, year long, of what these bakeries have to offer us lucky Evanstonians and others!