Richard McKinney, Plant Manager and Lee Roy King, Packing Department
Richard McKinney: This bakery was founded 56 years ago, in 1949, by O.R. Seaver, Jr. Mr. Seaver died in a tragic accident in 1973. In 1997 this bakery was sold to Ethel Coomer, by Mr. Seaver’s brother, who retired. Right now, we are making four different products. We make a fried pie, which we make eight flavors: apple, cherry, peach, pineapple, raisin, chocolate, coconut, and blueberry. We make under a Kern’s label. We also make under a Seaver’s label. We also make a Seaver’s doughnut, and we also make a Kern’s doughnut under their label. So, that is right now the business that we are in. At one time, we were in a business of making our own products and putting them out on routes, but right now, we just do wholesale only. We don’t have any routes whatsoever. Everything now is picked up here at the bakery by other trucks and delivered to other warehouses.
Fred Sauceman: Where can you find your products?
Right now, we’re not in any supermarkets. We’re in most convenience stores like Appco, any of the convenience markets. Also, right at the present time, Earth Grains has a thrift store out in the Keystone area of Johnson City. I believe it’s off of Broadway, to the right there at Broadway. It’s the old Rainbo building, and people can pick up Seaver’s pies there. At one time we had a thrift store. We sold the thrift store, up here on the old Jonesborough Highway, and it went out of business after we sold it out, so it’s closed right now.
Is this the original spot?
This is the original spot. The bakery was started next door in Mr. Seaver’s house, and he moved over here and started this part of the bakery. And this bakery is an old bakery, it’s just kept added onto, added onto, and added to. It’s a three-story bakery right now. It’s got three floors, and we use the production part of it downstairs, and then we’ve got a packaging room upstairs, and the lower part of the basement is just a storage room.
How unique is this?
Not many people are making fried pies like this any more. No, we’re the only one between, we have been told, between Roanoke, Virginia, and Knoxville. We used to, at one time, was making pies for several other companies that went out of business. We had one company in Morristown we sold for several years, which was called Galbreath bakery. They closed up, were bought out, by another company, but right now, we are the only local fried pie company. There’s some in North Carolina, but we’re the only local right now.
Did the recipe come from the Seaver family originally?
The recipe was made by Mr. Seaver hisself for the fried pies. It is his own recipe. We cook all of our fruit. We buy our fruit in number 10-sized cans, our apples and cherries, our peaches and pineapples, and we’ve got big steam cookers that we cook it in. We cook our own chocolate, we cook our own coconut, and we cook our own blueberry, and we add all the ingredients to it. And it goes into the pies.
Mr. Seaver’s first name was?
Orville Ralph. O.R. Senior. You know, right here in Johnson City, there’s a ballpark named in honor of Mr. Seaver because he was so involved in baseball with kids. He had a semi-pro team, and then he sponsored Little League teams, I mean Babe Ruth teams. He was so involved in the Babe Ruth League. And after he passed away, or was killed in this accident, they named a ball field here, up on Liberty Bell Road up there, O.R. Seaver’s Field up there.
Was it a car wreck he was killed in? Yes, it was a car wreck. It happened at the intersection of Roan and Main Street where King’s Department Store used to be. He was broadsided there by another vehicle and killed instantly.
Have you always offered that many flavors of fried pies?
Yes we have. Now we used to offer lemon fried pie, but lemon got so it was a scarce item for me to buy. I don’t know why. But we discontinued lemon fried pies. But that’s the only reason that we don’t make a lemon any more.
What makes a good fried pie?
A good fried pie is, number one, ingredients. We don’t cheapen any ingredients. We don’t cheapen any flour. We buy from ADM, flour, which is a highly reputable flour company. We used to buy from General Mills, local, until they closed down here in Johnson City. And our dough is, we have no cheap products in our dough. The prices of everything goes up, but we still try to hold our quality of pies.
Describe the frying process here.
OK, the frying process, the lady on the upper end up here is putting dough into the machine. It runs down through three different rollers and comes out under the filler, which is an automatic filler, run by air. You can hear the clicking sound of it. That is, each time you hear that click, that is a pie. The lady here at the end, well, it goes under the cutter to make the shape of the pie, it’s a half-moon pie. The lady at the end lays on eight across each time. She punches a clicker there because when I figure how many pies they need, they call it a click, so many clicks by eight. If they want 400, they’d do 400 clicks on that clicker right there. And then they’d know that’s the same amount of pie that I had them to make.
Tell me how it’s fried. OK, it’s fried for 3 _ minutes. It submerges underneath in pure vegetable oil. It goes in there for 3 _ minutes and comes out on the other side on a conveyor, and on that conveyor it travels one hour upstairs to a wrapping machine that we put the pies in to do the wrapping.
What are they wrapped in?
They’re wrapped in a glassine paper that has each flavor on it. In other words, right now we’re making a chocolate pie. When that pie gets up there, at the end of each flavor the ladies will lay a bag on what is coming up next. That way upstairs, when the girls see it up there, they’ll know what flavor is on the way up. And the guy that’s running the wrapping machine will know to put chocolate paper on. And that’s how it’s wrapped. Each flavor, we order the paper out of Jacksonville, Florida. It’s got all the ingredients on it. It’s got everything but price. We do not pre-price anything because that is whatever the people that runs the store wants to put on it. We don’t regulate that. And so that is the process of a fried pie going through.
You’re plant manager, right?
I’m plant manager. What did you start out doing in ’56? In ’56 I was a route salesman. We had eight routes here at Seaver’s Bakery. We covered the whole Tri-City area. I started out here running a route in Johnson City, and what happened was, in 1956, Mr. Seaver was making all his sweet goods for the old Honey Krust Bakery. OK, Honey Krust Bakery was sold out to a company called Campbell-Taggart. OK, when they sold out to Campbell-Taggart, Mr. Seaver was left out, the old saying I guess, without any business. So we, Mr. Seaver, started his own routes then, putting the products out on the routes. We had eight different trucks going out, covering all the Tri-City area, even up into Virginia, Bristol, Virginia, Roan Mountain, Mountain City, all those areas, and we had a real good setup, and then, after so many years, Mr. Seaver just decided to go to wholesale only, so we pulled all the routes.
What’s your biggest selling fried pie?
The biggest selling fried pie right now is apple. Apple is made by Granny Smith fruit. We buy Granny Smith dried apples. We cook all of our apples in steam cookers, adding all the sugar, starch, anything, all the ingredients that goes into it. But apple will outsell all the other eight flavors that we make two to one. Cherry is a good seller. And peach and pineapple is a good seller. Chocolate is a good seller, coconut, but apple, cherry, and peach are the three number one sellers.
What do consumers tell you about your fried pies? What do they like about them?
They like our fried pies because the majority of fried pies have a glazed sugar on them, and once that glazed sugar goes on them, which we do not put on our pie, it takes away the taste of the pie and you taste more sugar than you do the fruit of the pie. And that’s the reason that the consumers likes our pies. That is the number one reason, because they’re not sugar-coated.
Approximately how many pies would you make here in the course of a year?
In a year, we average, I couldn’t tell you year without checking, but we average making anywhere from, at top production, we make 30,000 pies a day. I mean in full production.
Did you grow up eating fried pies? Yes I did. I’ve eat, I’m an old-timer I guess. I’ll soon be 70 years old, and I don’t feel like retiring because I love my work, and my favorite pie is raisin, which, seemingly, the older people like raisin pies. The younger generation don’t like raisin pies too much. Raisin pies, they got brown sugar in it, it’s got starch and sugar, and it’s got a flavoring into it. We buy flavor to go into all of our pies. We buy that from a company in North Carolina. We add pineapple flavor, raisin flavor, chocolate flavor, any kind of flavor.
What appeals to you about the raisin pie?
Really I don’t know, I just like a raisin pie. And pineapple. I like raisin and pineapple. And pineapple is a good seller, too.
Have they always been this shape?
They’ve always been half-moon shape. Now this operation right here has just been in operation for about three years. We used to make it in a different type machine, but it was always half-moon pies. But this is a better system that we bought that automatically fills. The other was gravity-filled. In other words, it would fall down. But this is much more, more even’s what I’m trying to say. There’s a wheel there that forms them.
Where’d that come from?
We ordered that. We had that made. Now you can have each size made. If you want to make a smaller pie, we’d have to order that wheel, and it would make a smaller pie. We make a four-ounce pie, that’s what ours is. That’s total weight. That’s the shortening and fruit and dough. The dough is mixed in a mixer right here behind us. I’ll show you it in a minute. But we add the dough, the water, and the shortening into the dough. And it is mixed until it is made into a, I guess you call it a paste, that’s hard to describe, and it’s mixed like the old grandmas used to make their dough. The mixers pull up and down, up and down, up and down, like you’re kneading bread, and it doesn’t have anything in it that, we just use a bleached flour. That’s why it’s so white. It has to be a bleached flour. If we use an unbleached flour, it makes a dark pie, but ours, it is bleached, when we order it. Shortening, water, and preservatives, all that goes in the dough. We have to put a preservative in there, and all those preservatives are showed on our package upstairs, what goes into the dough.
What’s your job (to Lee Roy King)?
Lee Roy King: I work in the packing department. I help pack pies and fill orders.
Tell me about when you first came here. What was it like?
They didn’t, like I say, they didn’t have all this back then. They didn’t have all this back then. They taught me how to fry fried pies when I first started to work here. Then they got bigger and bigger machinery, and they taught me how to fry doughnuts and honey buns.
Richard: Tell him how you fried pies back then. You fried them by hand. You made them by hand, you filled them by hand. Now everything’s machines.
What makes a good fried pie?
They gotta have a good filling in them. They got to have the right kind of mixture of dough. They can’t be too soft. They can’t be too hard. It will not work if it’s too hard, too dry. It has to be the right amount of moisture. The fruit has to be fried, cooked just right and everything.
Did you grow up eating fried pies?
Back years ago when I was small, but I don’t think they come from Seaver’s. They come from some place else.
What’s your favorite flavor?
Now, my favorite is either chocolate or coconut.
What year did you come to work here?
- The oil the pies are fried in is 16 inches deep.
- The temperature is 380 degrees.
- Seaver’s Bakery employs 15 people full-time.
- They work from 6 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m.
- The shelf life of a Seaver’s fried pie is two weeks from the day the distributor gets the product.
- Pies are sold as far away as London, Kentucky, Knoxville, Nashville, Valdese, North Carolina, and Bluefield, West Virginia.
- The factory is capable of producing 350 dozen fried pies an hour.
- All the fryers are cleaned on Wednesdays and the oil is changed.
- The smallest run is raisin.
- The fried pies travel around the factory on a conveyor for an hour, to cool.