East Johnson Street gets sweeter as local pie shop reopens

Anticipation has grown since humble's 2017 closure

Jennifer Mans, owner of pie shop humble, says she never stops thinking about pie.

“It’s funny because I think my brain would work that way even if I wasn’t a pie maker,” Mans says. “There are obtrusive constant thoughts–‘How can I turn this into pie?’ That is the background thought process in my head at all times.”

This week humble celebrates its grand reopening in its new location at 831 E. Johnson St. After five years on South Allen Street on the near west side, Mans, who took over ownership of humble in 2015, had to relocate when her lease ended at the end of 2017. As a former east side resident, Mans jumped at the chance to take over the space where the former Sophia’s Bakery & Cafe took up residence for 20 years. “It’s a walkable neighborhood which feels very Madison to me,” Mans says. “And it’s a friendly neighborhood with lots of small businesses that I love.”

Mans, who began baking at a young age because “no one was using the oven at my house,” plans to keep most of the things the same as they were at her former location.

“Sweet pies, savory pies, individual pies, whole pies and a small drink menu,” Mans says. “That was my formula at my old place and that is what works best for my shop.” But expect extended hours on the weekend to honor the fact that Sophia’s was a popular brunch spot. “I want to offer a brunch-y menu on the weekends,” Mans says, which could include a savory galette topped with a quail egg.

Humble’s pie case rotates weekly and flavors change seasonally. “Pie flavors vary based on what is in season and they vary based on what cookbooks I’m reading or if I had a really good sandwich and I want to turn it into a pie,” Mans says. A recent grilled cheese she had at home is the inspiration for this week’s savory galette made with ham, pear and Brie cheese.

Other savory options include a beef and root vegetable pasty and a butternut squash quiche. Mans relies heavily on local ingredients, everything from the eggs, butter and cream to fruits and vegetables. “In Madison you can fill your whole case with local ingredients,” Mans says. “In winter you have to get creative with tea and coffee flavors but I also use apples that I froze in the fall and Door County cherries that were picked in season and frozen.” Current options for sweet flavors include coconut cream, Turkish coffee, honey lavender, sour cherry and buttered rum apple. “[Sweet pies] are the fun ones,” Mans says. “You can get wild with flavors.”

Mans says the new space on East Johnson Street has more seating than her old location and she is hoping that people come in and linger. “I’m here all the time so I love sharing the space with people,” Mans says. “I want people to come in and nestle into a corner and hang out with a podcast, a pie and a cup of coffee.”

With plants, thrifted furniture and art from Mans’ personal collection the space feels cozy and lived in. “If I’m going to be here 10 to 12 hours a day I want it to feel like I’m at my house,” Mans says. “It’s like your wacky grandmother’s place who never got married and just made pie.”

Mans also does catered events but says she loves owning a pie shop. “The storefront is doubly fun because watching people eat pie and having them say nice things about it feels amazing,” Mans says. “If you’ve never baked a pie for someone and sat down to watch them eat it I recommend it. It feels great.”

And why did Mans choose to focus on the humble pie? “In the weirdest and cheesiest way, pie sort of chose me,” Mans says. “When I started [the original] shop it was a direction I wanted to head in and the next thing I knew I was doing pie 25-7. But I love pie. I feel drawn to pie over other baked goods because pie never sets out to be perfect. An ugly pie is still really good.”

Humble will be open Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or until it sells out) and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (or until it sells out). Look for pie flavors on humble’s Facebook page or soon-to-be updated website. Customers can also stop in to the shop to check out the menu board and to say hello, which is Mans’ favorite option; she loves chatting with new customers and old friends.

“My first day open by hour two it felt like I had been here for five years,” Mans says. “It was a quick turn-around. I’m all settled in and I’m never moving again.”