Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 | 3 a.m.
What’s the basis of the best recipe for building a successful small business in Southern Nevada?
Simply start from scratch.
That’s exactly what Treasa and Michael Teliska did in 2006 when the couple opened Pies Unlimited, a specialty bakery offering a dizzying selection of made-from-scratch pies, cheesecakes and cakes, available with added sugar and without.
Located in Sun City in Summerlin, Pies Unlimited was the brainchild of the husband and wife, who have more than two decades of combined experience in various aspects of the bakery business. Treasa Teliska, for instance, was originally hired as the receptionist at Tiffany’s Pies in 1992 (performing a similar duty at another business owned by the same individual), was promoted to customer service representative and eventually worked her way up to office manager of the wholesale bakery, which closed its door more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, Michael Teliska has been in the bakery business since 1992. He started off as a driver at Tiffany’s in 1992, then became a bakery helper and worked his way up to general manager.
“I left Tiffany’s in 1998 to have a second child and go back to school, and Michael left in 2003 and decided to make a career change (he worked in maintenance for a food manufacturing plant), so we moved to Indiana,” Treasa Teliska said. “But we missed Las Vegas too much and so came back and saw that there was still a niche for the retail side of pies. And we decided to open our own place. We had started thinking about going into business for ourselves in 2003, and wanted to try Indiana first, but this time we said, ‘OK, we are going to do it.’ ”
It was a marriage — and also a business partnership — made in heaven, merging Treasa’s operational and management experience with Michael’s baking expertise and kitchen savvy.
“I think everybody wants to be their own boss,” Michael Teliska said, “and people were getting tired of cupcakes and cookies, so we brought something new to the market. Once you have our pies, you won’t be able to go back.”
The couple invested approximately $250,000 in personal funds and bank loans to get Pies Unlimited up and running. In addition to securing financing, the Teliskas were faced with the challenge of finding a suitable location to set up the bakery, preferably a venue with the necessary facilities and equipment in place, so as to keep startup costs in check. Pies Unlimited opened with 2,400 square feet and has since absorbed another 1,200 square feet of space.
There was also the matter of recruiting loyal employees who were willing to show up each day and respect the Teliskas’ commitment to customer service and teamwork. Also, as a specialty bakery, the couple had to locate suppliers that could keep the pantry shelves stocked with vital ingredients.
And then, of course, the couple had to create the menu and fine-tune the recipes.
It now offers more than 90 varieties of the classic American dessert. Take the seemingly innocuous strawberry, for instance.
Pies Unlimited features regular strawberry pie; no-sugar-added strawberry; strawberry rhubarb; strawberry rhubarb no-sugar-added; strawberry crumb; strawberry crumb no-sugar-added; strawberry rhubarb crumb; strawberry rhubarb crumb no-sugar-added; strawberry cream; and strawberry cream no-sugar-added.
Most are available in both a 4-inch minipastry as well as a 9-inch pie.
Prices vary depending on diameter, with no-sugar pies costing slightly more.
There are also meringue pie flavors, including chocolate, banana, coconut and peanut butter, as well as seasonal treats such as eggnog cream pie and eggnog cheesecake and pumpkin cheesecake.
“Cheesecake just came along naturally,” Treasa Teliska said, adding that the most popular is the standard New York-style, both in regular and no-sugar-added. “You can’t go wrong with cheesecake.”
The bakery also makes a variety of classic cakes, including white, chocolate, German chocolate, and carrot cake.
Pies Unlimited clients include Arnie Annunziata, manager of business development for Yellowbook, who worked with the company for the first time last year.
“We have worked with them in terms of getting large quantities of pies that our salespeople deliver to our top prospects and clients,” Annunziata said. “We often bring what we call a ‘door-opening’ type of item, and this was probably the best item we have ever delivered to prospects and clients.”
Calendars and pens and mouse pads and coffee mugs seem kind of trite when compared to a fresh-baked treat, he said.
“When you walk in with a pie it’s an eye-opener, and it was fun and it got us past a lot of gatekeepers,” he said. “We did a large purchase of 250 pies, and we got a discount and they delivered them to our office. The folks over there were a pleasure to work with and the product was top-notch and fresh, so it was an ideal situation. We have already discussed putting it into the budget for next year.”
Treasa Teliska said that while Pies Unlimited has done some advertising, most of its business is derived by word-of-mouth. Additionally, the company has an A-frame sign outside the bakery that seems to attract foot traffic.
Pies Unlimited derives its revenue from retail walk-in business, retail corporate business, fundraising and wholesale, which includes retirement communities, assisted-living facilities, restaurants and casinos.
Pies Unlimited has 11 employees, including two primary bakers and four or five helpers, who make everything from scratch.
“We make a specialty, baked-from-scratch product, and the high quality comes not only from the ingredients, but also from the process and the care we put into it,” Treasa Teliska said, adding that the pie crust is especially light and flaky. “We are not here to put out a pie and make money — we want to make something that people come back for, and I have customers tell me ‘I haven’t had anything this good since I was a kid at my grandma’s farm and picked the fruit myself.’ ”
Her husband added: “We care what people eat,” he said. “A lot of people complain about aftertaste on diabetic (foods) and tasting cardboard on the no-sugar-added side, so if you make something taste good, diabetic people are going to love it. And we just try to have the highest quality and we really care how it’s made.”
Despite the economic downturn, the company has increased its business by 40 percent to 50 percent since it opened, the owners said.
“With the economy doing how it is, we are not doing too bad,” Michael Teliska said. “We wish we could have stronger growth, but we are happy with how we are doing now.”
He went on to offer the following advice to fellow entrepreneurs:
“Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row before you get started and have a good team in place,” he said. “My wife and I have both been in the business for years, and you really do need a good team to get started. Also, like what you do. If you are just in it for the money, there will be no gratification, at least not the first couple of years, and you will die out. New businesses are not usually moneymakers in the beginning.”