Happy Apple Pie Shop provides dessert, food for thought

Staff at the bakery, at 226 Harrison St. in Oak Park, includes those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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At Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park, the desserts may take center stage. But the diverse group working behind the scenes also steals the show.

Staff at the bakery, at 226 Harrison St., includes those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together, they and other employees who don’t have disabilities “create great pie and create community — one pie at a time,” owner Michelle Mascaro said.

The kitchen at Happy Apple Pie Shop.

The kitchen at Happy Apple Pie Shop.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Mascaro, who learned to cook from her aunt, credits her 22-year-old daughter, Emma Mascaro Romine, as the “impetus” of the 2-year-old business.

Mascaro and her wife were always worried about where Mascaro Romine — who has an intellectual disability and severe anxiety disorder — would find work as an adult.

“When I look at an employee I think of what is their ability, not their disability. Each employee has a different ability, and I look at how they can share that here,” said Mascaro, who has worked as a lawyer, social service worker and lobbyist.

Happy Apple Pie Shop is located at 226 Harrison St. in Oak Park.

Happy Apple Pie Shop is located at 226 Harrison St. in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Ironically, Mascaro Romine had no interest in working at Happy Apple. Instead, she’ll be working for the Oak Park Park District in the fall.

“One of our goals we have for our business is that it becomes an example for other businesses,” Mascaro said.

Michelle Mascaro is the owner of Happy Apple Pie Shop.

Michelle Mascaro is the owner of Happy Apple Pie Shop.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The pie shop employs 14 non-traditional employees who work in two-hour shifts and are paid Oak Park’s minimum wage of $12-an-hour. Standard knives are used under instruction and supervision of kitchen coach Teresa Shattuck. The tasks of the employees include greeting, cleaning, folding and labeling boxes, stamping bags, pie filling prep and chopping.

Staffer Estevan Connolly-Arce calls the work environment at Happy Apple “fantastic.”

“I love working here,” he said. “The energy is amazing. Pie is, like, life. By the end of the day … when you’re done … you feel like you’ve accomplished a big goal in your life.”

The namesake apple pie and two other “imaginative and fresh” pies are featured each week.

Apple pie made at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park.

Apple pie made at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

There’s also chocolate chess, honey pie, lemon meringue, banana creme, French silk and honey roasted sweet potato pies — but you can also order a custom made dessert.

Traditional fillings include variations of cherry, blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb, peach and blackberry.

Fillings are made from locally sourced seasonal fruits from Ellis Family Farm in Michigan. Vegetables and herbs are also harvested from a local community garden less than a block away from Happy Apple.

Cherry pie made at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park. 

Cherry pie made at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Crusts, made from scratch with unsalted butter and King Arthur brand flour, are rolled out by hand with Mascaro’s grandmother’s rolling pin and crimped.

Cherries are hand pitted and key limes freshly squeezed. And every week, 150 pounds of apples are peeled. The peels are then sent for goats to nibble on at the Austin-based Glenn Art Farm. Glenn Art Farm returns the favor by giving Mascaro milk, which she uses to make goat cheese that is featured in the savory pies with seasonal vegetables.

Other savory treats include galettes, hand pies, mini pies and quiches. The chicken pot pie is a “maddening hit” that is served in the winter and for two weeks in each summer month.

“Even if it’s 90 degrees out people want chicken pot pie,” Mascaro said.

Michelle Mascaro, owner of Happy Apple Pie Shop, gets some of her produce from a nearby garden in Oak Park.

Michelle Mascaro, owner of Happy Apple Pie Shop, gets some of her produce from a nearby garden in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Mascaro said while quality pie is key, she also wants to ensure that her non-traditional workers are visible to customers and that everyone interacts with one another to “create a sense of kindness that changes the entire atmosphere of a business.”

Currently, there is a waiting list for those looking for a job at Happy Apple.

The kitchen at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park.

The kitchen at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“My goal for the people who are more typical that work here is that when they leave and go to other jobs, they’ll look around and say, ‘Why isn’t everybody here?’” Mascaro said.

Happy Apple Pie Shop is located at 226 Harrison St., in Oak Park. Call (708) 606-0037 or visit happyapplepie.com. Currently, the shop is closed for summer vacation until Aug. 20.

Happy Apple Pie Shop is located at 226 Harrison St. in Oak Park.

Happy Apple Pie Shop is located at 226 Harrison St. in Oak Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

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