This Baker Is Whipping Up Pies And Positive Impact
Her pies are ’Grammable and made with a mission.
In Elite Daily’s I Have The Job You Want series, we tell the stories of people working in the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and totally envy-inducing fields you never thought possible. In this piece, we talk to a baker who’s honoring her dad by fighting for real change, one pie at a time.
Maya-Camille Broussard vividly remembers the first time she baked something by herself: She was in the third or fourth grade, and she made blueberry muffins from a “Jiffy” Mix box without any adult supervision. Her aunt and cousins taught her how to bake, and tables laden with baked goods at her childhood swim meets showed her new recipes to try. Over the years, weekends became Broussard’s baking time, and she baked everything from Rice Krispie Treats to lemon pound cake. Flash forward to 2014, and she turned that passion into a project with a career running her own social justice-focused bake shop, Justice of the Pies, in Chicago. Eight years on, she has a following of nearly 40,000 on social media and a devoted fan base that even includes a former president.
But it wasn’t until many years later that Broussard considered baking as anything more than a hobby. In 2009, Broussard lost her father — a criminal defense attorney who loved to bake so much that he called himself the “Pie Master” — just one week before she was slated to open a combined art gallery and bar in Chicago. A cousin suggested starting up a baking foundation as a tribute — something to “teach children how to bake pies,” as Broussard recalls it. But it took another few years for the idea to click.
My mission is to positively impact the lives of others.
In August 2014, Broussard went to visit another cousin in San Francisco, where she wandered into a bakery that hired displaced teens. As she ordered her food, “a light went [on],” she says. She thought: “I’m supposed to be doing something like this.” The very next day, she started on research and development by experimenting with different pie recipes. That was how Justice of the Pies came to be: Although her aunt suggested the “Pie Master’s Daughter” as a bakery name, Broussard ultimately chose something that would play on “justice of the peace,” as a tribute to her father’s career.
To launch the business, Broussard raised $7,000 via a Kickstarter campaign. She tested out her flavors by selling pies at local farmers’ markets and art fairs, but as of 2022 she’s expanded — her pies ship nationwide on Goldbelly.
Still, it’s a tightly-run operation: Justice of the Pies currently works in a 250-square-foot kitchen with just one assistant, and Broussard’s mom — a retired physician — sometimes volunteers to help. Two days a week, Broussard focuses on administrative tasks like responding to emails and ordering supplies. On Wednesdays, she heads over to the kitchen, where she meets her assistant. Together, they bake all of their wholesale orders and prepare for the week’s farmers markets. Then comes Thursday morning, when Broussard wakes up between 4:45 and 5 a.m. and heads to the markets, where she has to unload her car and set up for the day. By the time Friday rolls around, Broussard needs some time to recover, so she meets her assistant slightly later in the morning and they then prepare for the following week.
If that sounds exhausting, it’s because it is. She used to work in the kitchen seven days a week, but now she works from home more often, in order to find balance. “I used to be go, go, go until I would just pass out from being burnt out,” she says.
She credits her puppy, Milo, adopted in July 2022, with slowing her down a bit (for the better). Adopting Milo “forced me to actually go walk outside and actually breathe in fresh air and feel the sunlight against my face. Those are the little moments of balance as opposed to being in a kitchen under fluorescent light for 14 hours.”
It’s not like I come home smelling like sugar and buttercream.
Balance is important in other ways, too: Broussard notes she didn’t want Justice of the Pies to be just a bakery; instead, she sees it as a “social mission in a culinary art form.” She doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into any one specific purpose, though. “My mission is to positively impact the lives of others,” she says. “How I do that can change over time.”
For example, in 2017, she launched the “I Knead Love” workshop, which aims to fight food insecurity by teaching elementary and middle school students from low-income communities basic cooking and nutritional skills, helping them to become more self-reliant in the kitchen. Before the pandemic, Broussard aimed to conduct the workshop in-person four times a year, but switched to a virtual format in 2020 and 2021. She paused “I Knead Love” in 2022 to focus on building partnerships, raising donations, striving for nonprofit status, and setting up her new space, which she will then use to resume workshops in-person.
During the pandemic, she also mobilized Justice of the Pies’ resources to help provide more than 3,000 meals to health care workers at hospitals across Chicago’s South and Southwest sides. She also provided roughly 2,000 meals to a women and children’s shelter, to support vulnerable Chicagoans who were adversely impacted by the pandemic. On top of that, Broussard has been a regular contributor to the Love Fridge, a Chicago-based mutual aid initiative. The program places fridges across multiple Chicago neighborhoods, and city residents can either donate what they can or take what they need.
But there are some big changes coming Broussard’s way. Thanks to a grant from Talenti Gelato and Sorbetto, Broussard is preparing to open up a much bigger space on Chicago’s South Side, where she grew up. As part of a partnership with Black Food Folks — “a fellowship of Black professionals” working in the food and beverage industry — Talenti is honoring Broussard as its Culinary Creator Hero. Broussard is using the grant to build out her new 4,000-square-foot space in a thoughtful, intentional way.
As a member of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, it was important to Broussard to design her new space with accessibility in mind. For one thing, she’s planning to attach a flashing light to the doorbell for service deliveries because she often doesn’t hear doorbells, and the sheer size of the space also necessitates a visual cue. She’s also putting in a wheelchair ramp, as well as differently textured tiles in different spaces to help people with low vision distinguish between the bathroom, demo kitchen, and retail space by the texture underfoot. Broussard is even training her puppy Milo to be a service dog, in the hopes that he can help her and her customers in the future.
The larger space will also give Broussard the chance to continue workshops like “I Knead Love” in person, thanks to the space’s demo kitchen. But perhaps the biggest change will be the introduction of a retail space.
“For the past seven and a half years, I’ve been a satellite bakery,” Broussard explains. “My current kitchen is not a storefront that you could just walk up to; it’s a production kitchen, but it’s my own private kitchen. The reason why this project is so important and so special is because it would be the first time in eight years that people could actually walk up to the bakery and purchase a pie.” Broussard hopes to see the space evolve into not just a bakery, but also a gathering space that offers culinary courses and workshops.
It took Broussard a lot of hard work and tenacity to get to where she is today: The author of an upcoming cookbook and proprietor of a new retail space has built up a loyal following that has supported her for years, both on social media and at markets and fairs. Her fanbase even includes former President Barack Obama, whom she met after baking pies for an Obama Foundation event. For anyone who wants to become a baker, or who wants to make a difference in a job like Broussard’s, she cautions against romanticizing the work.
“I’m coming home funky like I worked out at the gym — it’s not like I come home smelling like sugar and buttercream,” Broussard says with a laugh. “Literally when people say blood, sweat, and tears: blood — burning myself; sweat — lifting up a 50-quart mixing bowl and trying to lift that on the table; tears — crying because you put all of your heart and soul into making a pie and then five people email you vile, disgusting words because they didn’t get enough caramel sauce on top of one of their pies.”
But if you do want to start your own business, or if you have a dream job that you really want, then Broussard has two critical pieces of advice.
I was very clear about my ask.
“One of the greatest pieces of advice I got was fold a sheet of paper in half,” Broussard says. “On one side, write down everything you would like to accomplish in your life. On the other side, separate from those goals, what do you really enjoy doing?” she asks. “When you open up those two sides, draw a line between an accomplishment you want to make or have, and then something you enjoy doing. See if there’s some synchronicity between the two sides of the paper.” She recommends only adding a social justice element to your business if it’s “from a genuine place.”
She also suggests a vision board — but be specific. “Print out exactly where you want to go, where you want to live, what you want to do,” she says. Her ambitions were tangible: “I printed out ‘Outstanding Baker, James Beard Awards,’ and I printed out a photo of the awards and I didn’t win, but I was a finalist for the 2022 James Beard Award in the Outstanding Baker category. So I was very clear about my ask.”
Between her cookbook and her retail space, Broussard definitely has some exciting things coming up. But she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself when it comes to planning the future. “I’m never gonna talk about what I'm going to do, because what I want could change,” Broussard says. “Sometimes I still have to formulate what that looks like in my mind.”
Ultimately, it’s a specific type of wealth that she’s after. “What I want for myself in the future is the ability to decide how I spend my time without worrying about any consequences regarding my stability in life or my stature in life,” she says. Having money versus having time, to Broussard, is the difference between being rich and being wealthy: “Being wealthy is ‘I have the time to spend.’” That, she says, is her goal as she moves into her next phase.