Pie in the sky

Naples-born Key lime creations, all 1,620 of them, fly out the door after QVC airs segment

Randy Essig’s 15 minutes of recent fame lasted a mere 8 minutes, 23 seconds. But that’s OK. The 58-year-old restaurateur picked up a nice piece of change while helping put one of Southwest Florida’s signature desserts on the national map.

On Sept. 2, the 58-year-old owner of Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant appeared on the ninth stop of QVC’s Decade of Discoveries Tour, a shopping channel series that boasts approximately 87 million viewers.

Chosen from more than 3,000 aspiring entrepreneurs from across the country, he hawked his popular homemade Key lime pies from the bucolic grounds of Amara Creekside Resort in Sedona, Ariz. The city’s famous red rocks provided a stunning backdrop for his display.

Key lime pie by Paradise Pies.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard

Key lime pie by Paradise Pies.

Sandwiched between segment No. 7 — ArtiaBella Organic Odor Neutralizer — and segment No. 9 — Chase-It Interactive Plus Squirrel Toy on Flexible Pole — he quickly sold out.

“Home shopping network operators took 810 orders in those 8 minutes, 23 seconds,” he said after returning home. “That’s 1,620 pies. And, yes, it was a great experience but also nerve-racking. It was so hot out there, about 102. And all that television lighting just added to the heat. I kept worrying about my frozen pies melting.”

The pies held up well, though. Almost better than the pie maker, laughs Essig’s new-found pal Jerry Lastella, who traveled with him to Arizona. (“Randy woke up at 3 a.m. the day of the show and paced the floor for the rest of the night,” he recalls.)

The owner of Angel’s Touch Fashion Jewelry Outlet at Prime Outlets at Naples, Lastella has been a regular on QVC for 10 years, where he’s become a real pro selling his silver-gold jewelry cleaner.

“I knew how popular Randy’s pies are at his restaurant and had heard he tried to get on for six or seven years, so I asked a mutual acquaintance to have him send me some samples,” Lastella says. “I’m not personally a fan of Key lime but everyone else who tasted the product loved it.”

Randy Essig from Paradise Pies with his famous Key Lime Pie.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard

Randy Essig from Paradise Pies with his famous Key Lime Pie.

The jewelry store owner cut through QVC red tape and got a Key lime pie into the hands of the home shopping network’s product-search crew.

“It was a hit,” Lastella notes, “and went on to become the first-ever pie to pass QVC’s high quality control standards.”

Within a few months, Essig was finally on the first leg of his journey. But initial acceptance to be booked on QVC, it turns out, is only the beginning.

After shipping a supply of his pies to QVC headquarters in West Chester, Pa..— for on-the-spot taste tests — Essig flew into Philadelphia for three days of training before live audiences. First-time guests attend intensive classroom and on-stage classes to help them get comfortable in front of the camera.

“They had me doing two-minute, then four-minute test demos,” the restaurateur says. “I also had to get used to wearing microphones, especially the ear piece. It’s an odd feeling having someone talking into your ear.”

The QVC staff has its routines down to a science, though, he says. “Every single person was a top-notch professional.”

Bo Barclay, manager and pie maker for Paradise Pies in North Naples, dips a ladle into a mixing bowl full of pie filling. Each scoop fills one pie, and this batch is enough for 50 pies. Barclay said that when they are really busy he can prepare 600 pies in a day, one scoop at a time.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard

Bo Barclay, manager and pie maker for Paradise Pies in North Naples, dips a ladle into a mixing bowl full of pie filling. Each scoop fills one pie, and this batch is enough for 50 pies. Barclay said that when they are really busy he can prepare 600 pies in a day, one scoop at a time.

Training sessions behind him, Essig and his assistants worked two weeks at his “pie factory,” a commercial space he owns on Collier Commercial Way on Old 41 Road, making the required number of pies.

The next step was to pack the 1,620 frozen pies in dry ice — including extras to allow for damage in transit — and have them trucked to Baltimore-Washington International airport, where they’d be shipped to Sedona within 48 hours of showtime.

The pie maker would wear a Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant logo T-shirt under a green chef’s jacket for his television debut and sport freshly manicured fingernails in his closeups.

Unlike Richard Gere, his famous classmate at North Syracuse High School who acted in every school play, Essig says he’d never set foot on a stage before. However, he looked completely at ease with hosts David Venable and Dave King and didn’t flub a line.

“I first tasted Key lime pie back in 1976 or ‘77,” he told Venable, “and I continued to sample pies wherever I found one. Then, finally, in 1990, I found the best recipe yet. It’s lighter and airier than most — just tart enough with a sweet after-taste I call ‘pucker-power’.”

He also talked about why his pie is special. “It’s made with real Key limes, not garden-variety limes,” Essig explained.

In conclusion, he told viewers how to properly serve the pie: frozen, straight from the freezer.

“It went really fast,” he says.

The not-so-secret recipe

Randy Essig sells his frozen Key lime pies whole or by the slice at his restaurant. Nationwide shipping is also available. He also sells “Randy’s Famous Key Lime Pie Juice.” His not-so-secret recipe is printed on the bottle. “I have nothing to hide,” he says.

Here it is.

RANDY‘S HOMEMADE KEY LIME PIE

1 graham cracker pie crust (9-inch)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounce)

6 ounces dairy topping

1/2-cup Randy‘s Famous Key Lime Pie Juice

Mix condensed milk with dairy topping at medium speed until blended. Add Key lime pie juice to mixture. Blend well. Pour into graham cracker crust. Refrigerate three hours, then freeze, before serving. Top with whipped cream. (Note: some people portion out a frozen pie and put individual slices in Ziploc bags.)

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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