Last Thursday I lost a mentor and a friend. Northern Michigan lost one of its caring and supportive people. And the world of Pie lost one of its finest.
Mike Dennos came into our GTPie shop within a few months of our opening in 1996. I did not know Mike at that time. Here was a guy who walked into our Pie Shop with an empty 5 gallon bucket asking if he could purchase some Mincemeat Pie filling.
Being new to Traverse City I did not know that he and his brother Peter had grown their fathers pie shop from its humble beginnings in Muskegon Michigan to the largest employer in Traverse City and the largest supplier of pies in the country. I did not know that he had served as President and CEO of Chef Pierre and was instrumental in their merging with Sara Lee. I did not know that he had founded the Dennos Museum and had been instrumental in many community causes and foundations.
I did not have any Mincemeat Pie Filling to give Mike and I told him that I had never made a mincemeat pie. He said, “that’s ok, would you like my mincemeat pie recipe?” I told him yes so a couple of days later Mike came back with a recipe that started with curing meat in burbon in a crock for 4 months while adding additional ingredients along the way. The recipe was about a foot long, handwritten. A real pie recipe from days gone by.
Given all that Mike accomplished in his career, I knew him in his later stages of life as a guy who wanted to talk pie with this new guy to Traverse City. We developed a friendship around pie, he would tell stories of making pies for his dad when he was 14, having to get up from the Sunday dinner table and go into the pie shop to get ready for Monday. How he took pies in his trunk on the road and met with many grocers in the early days and convinced them to sell his pies. For Mike it was always about quality, and relationships. Mike always had time to come and taste any new pies that I was thinking of selling. Given all that Mike had accomplished he was still a fellow pie baker to me. I learned much from Mike in these impromptu conversations. Much more than pie, these conversations were about life, family, community. As our company grew I could tell that Mike was truly happy and proud of us. He and his wife Barb would sit and chat with us over Blueberry Muffins, Barb’s favorite. As recently as last summer I called Mike to let him know we had fresh Rhubarb pie coming out of the oven and he was there within minutes with Barb and his family to taste them. It always felt so good when Mike would praise our pies.
About three weeks ago I heard Mike was slipping so I took him another warm Rhubarb pie. We just chatted briefly, I could see the vibrancy slipping away, but his smile, his warmth, and his spirit were still there. He was so happy to have a warm Rhubarb Pie!
Whether or not Mike new it, he set the bar for me as a pie guy and as a person. There was no more humble, warm, and supportive person than Mike Dennos. I will miss you more than you know.
I know there is now real Mincemeat Pie on the menu in Heaven.
Mike Dennos (1920 – 2012)