A Pie Shop on Chicago’s South Side Serves More Than Dessert
With her first brick-and-mortar bakery, Justice of the Pies, the pastry chef Maya-Camille Broussard focuses on creativity — and inclusivity for people with disabilities.
The South Side of Chicago brims with inimitable African American culture and history, and the pastry chef Maya-Camille Broussard is adding her brand of sweetness to the place where she was born and raised. In June, Ms. Broussard opened the first brick-and-mortar store of her longtime delivery and wholesale pie business, Justice of the Pies.
The shop, in a former dentist’s office in Avalon Park, one of the South Side’s many historic, predominantly African American neighborhoods, serves Ms. Broussard’s inventive pies and pastries, such as her calling cards — a blue cheese praline pear pie and a strawberry basil Key lime pie — along with unorthodox items like her salted caramel mocha peach pie and a deep-dish chilaquiles quiche.
Ms. Broussard, who lost 75 percent of her hearing in a childhood accident, may be the industry’s most prominent hard-of-hearing Black pastry chef. She has gained a following for her pies through social media, pop-ups and appearances on the Netflix competition show “Bake Squad.” “I realized that being a member of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community actually gave me a superpower,” she said, “and that superpower includes a heightened sense of smell and taste.”
Ms. Broussard chose her bakery’s location in hopes of encouraging other chefs and entrepreneurs to join her. “I want to force people who don’t look like me to come to the South Side if they want my pies,” she said. “I want to force people to come to a neighborhood that deserves private investment, a neighborhood that has a blighted corridor, a neighborhood that has empty storefronts.”
Zella Palmer, an author and professor at Dillard University in New Orleans who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, said neighborhoods like Avalon Park deserve more inventive Black-owned businesses. “There’s a huge pride in the community to see this gleaming pie shop,” she said. “This is a pie shop that looks like it could be in Brooklyn, or on Magazine Street in New Orleans, but it’s here.”
Several of the shop’s counters are 32 inches high, meeting the height standards of the American Disabilities Act and making them accessible for wheelchair users. Each section of the shop has a different floor tile texture, which helps patrons with limited sight who use a walking cane navigate the store.
“How can I be an ambassador for people living with disabilities and have a space that isn’t accessible?” she said. Signs in the shop carry Braille inscriptions, and language is designed to be inclusive, too. (In the bathroom, there are “personal hygiene products” rather than “feminine hygiene products.”) A service door that has a bell and a flashlight allows Ms. Broussard to remain aware of important deliveries.
Ms. Broussard started Justice of the Pies in 2014, naming it for her father, Stephen Broussard, a criminal-justice lawyer and longtime activist. She had a complicated relationship with him and has sought healing through the bakery. Mr. Broussard displayed a predilection for pies, convincing a young Ms. Broussard — an initial skeptic — to give them a chance.
For several years, she operated in different businesses and spaces, while also creating programs to address food insecurity, including teaching young people on the South Side what she describes as “self-sufficiency” skills, such as how to budget, make a grocery list and follow a recipe.
Ms. Broussard communicates by reading lips, which requires a level of effort that can slow down her pie-baking process. To keep up with demand, the pastry chef keeps her head down while working, and hears ambient sound rather than what a person might be saying to her, leading some customers to think she was ignoring them. (One even stormed out, swearing at her before leaving.)
She is eager to push the boundaries with her new menu, which will debut in full in September. She talks about including items beyond her pies to round it out — like the lunchroom cookie, her play on a buttery sugar cookie once served in the city’s public schools. She’s tinkering with a tuna melt with sun-dried tomatoes, fig jam, olives and Manchego.
“When people are willing to play with me and engage with what I’m creating, it makes me feel good because it’s like ‘OK, I’m doing something crazy, but it’s working.’”