When you think about the holidays, a lot of memories probably pop up. You might think about watching your favorite sports team or your crazy uncle that would always be asleep, snoring on the sofa, by 5 p.m. Or, if you’re like a lot of people, you have memories of food.
Whether it’s turkey or ham or the jiggly Jell-O salad that your aunt used to make, food has a powerful way of creating bonds and memories that last a lifetime.
Nobody knows that better than Mr. Tod, or as his customers like to call him, The Pie Man.
“Pie is special. It’s that one item that everybody has a memory around. Whether it’s mama or grandma,” Tod Wilson, owner of Mr. Tod’s Pies said.
He thinks back to an email he received from a customer a few years ago that has stuck with him since.
“I got into work the Monday after Thanksgiving and had an email from a school principal,” he explained. “She said that this year was the first Thanksgiving without their family matriarch and her famous sweet potato pies.
“After dinner everyone was sitting around the table nervously as they brought out my pies. And as everyone started taking their first bites, they started tearing up. They knew this was the closest that they would ever get to the pie that they’d been eating their entire lives.
“Whenever I have one of those kinds of days, I open that email to remember how important something so small can be in people’s lives.”
The Birth of The Pie Man
Mr. Tod didn’t get into the baking business to pull on people’s heart strings. In fact, he almost didn’t get into the baking business at all. After graduating from high school, he actually wanted to become a law enforcement officer or an attorney. But before leaving for school, his godfather asked him for a hand with his own business, baking pies in his basement.
“I walked into his house and it smelled like a bakery. I went downstairs and he had pizza ovens in his basement and it smelled of sweet potato pie and all sorts of other desserts,” he explained.
Wilson would go off to school for the year and come back home for the summer and saw his godfather’s business grow. That growth intoxicated Mr. Tod, and instilled within him the entrepreneurial spirit.
“I said to hell with going to school any more. I want to be an entrepreneur,” he said with a laugh.
That decision started him down the path to becoming a successful business owner. But his success didn’t happen overnight. After 20-plus years in the business, it’s been a long time since Mr. Tod received a paycheck from someone.
“But it’s a passion. It’s love. It’s persistence,” he explained. “Even when there are highs and lows, I can honestly say that every day I get up, I can’t wait to get to the factory and see what’s ahead.”
Entering the Shark Tank
When talking about his success, it’s hard to ignore one of the most inspiring moments: Mr. Tod was the first contestant on the TV show “Shark Tank.” Not only that, but he was also the first contestant to walk out with a $1 million investment from the sharks.
“The first few minutes of a brand new show is very important,” he explained. “So the people running that show must have felt that my story would capture the eyes and hearts and ears of everyone watching. That really made me feel good to be put in that light.”
The Final Word
Mr. Tod doesn’t look at his success in terms of dollar signs.
“It’s not about what you can accumulate,” he said. “It’s about seeing the smile on people’s faces. My philosophy is if I can touch someone here and there, eventually all the money, all the trappings, those things will come, but you gotta follow your passion and your dream cause that’s what’s going to get you to the next level.
“Why am I an entrepreneur? For the love of paving the way for future entrepreneurs, that’s why I do what I do. That’s what motivates me to get up every morning and make these little delicious pies.
“There’s probably another Tod Wilson, 10, 20 years behind me that may have that same vision. I don’t want that person to ever look up and get discouraged and think ‘Oh I can’t do this, I’m not gonna make it.’ I want them to be able to look at my story and say ‘Hey look, this guy did it. This guy made it.’
“For me, it’s for the love of opening doors and making opportunities for others.”
Want to learn more about Mr. Tod’s Pies? Go to MrTods.com to order a batch for your next family celebration, or check out our For the Love Of series where we interview business owners across the country to hear their stories.