The story of entrepreneurs Jason and Annie Vieira could easily be picked up as a plot to the next hit Netflix rom-com. It was the early aughts, and Jason, a recent transplant to New York City from Massachusetts, talked his way into a dinner party hosted by a stranger he’d met on the subway. “I promised to cook a five-course meal and bring the wine,” he says, “I was starving for attention.” He was in the city to work with award-winning pastry chef Richard Leach.
Annie, who moved to New York to study at Parsons, was a guest at the party. “I think our very first conversation was about pie,” she says. She complimented Jason’s dessert and told him she loved baking pies. Annie recalls Jason being a bit skeptical of her skills, and coming off as arrogant at the time, but fast forward a couple of years and a few pounds of flour later, and now they run Annie Mae’s together in Charleston.
Annie Mae’s is a bakeshop without a storefront. It currently pops up at wine bar Graft (700 King Street) on the third Sunday of each month (the next chance to catch them is on Sunday, November 19). Jason and Annie wanted to start the business to celebrate Southern baked goods. The current menu includes scratch-made pies with flavors like spiced apple with maple frangipane, mulled wine poached pear with chocolate chai, and pecan pralines with cream.
Jason grew up in the food and beverage industry. His parents immigrated from Portugal to Massachusetts and ran a small lunch and breakfast cafe. “I was always intrigued with baking,” he says, “Through a mutual friend, I found my way to a Portuguese bakery, and that’s where I got serious and decided I would attend the Culinary Institute of America.”
Annie Mae’s started as an idea after the couple moved to Charleston, and Jason worked for Basic Projects (Basic Kitchen, Sullivan’s Fish Camp, and Post House). The company wanted to hire him as a corporate pastry chef for all its properties but didn’t have a proper commercial kitchen to service all the establishments — Jason suggested that he set one up, and they could contract with him to make desserts, custom lobster rolls, and other baked goods for the menus. It was such a successful partnership that other restaurants started asking for Jason’s items. Spots like Husk and Tippling House use his buns for their burgers.
While Jason is in the kitchen, Annie runs the administrative side of their brand and also works as the general manager at Obstinate Daughter. She grew up baking in Louisiana but never worked in a professional kitchen, until she decided to write to famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, asking for a position with him. “I dined at ABC Kitchen and decided that I needed to work there,” she says. That was the year ABC Kitchen won Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation, but Annie wasn’t aware of this; she only knew that her dining experience at ABC was so phenomenal that she needed to be a part of that team.
Vongerichten kindly rejected Annie’s ask, due to liability issues, to which she countered with a waiver and a story of her grandmother’s kitchen and her love of garden-fresh tomatoes. Something softened in the chef, and Annie was in. (Remember, this is a story straight out of a rom-com.)
On her first day, Jason expressed his concern that Annie might be in over her head — he had worked in “serious” kitchens and knew they could be tough. “I walked into the first day in a dress,” says Annie, “And I knew the sous chef wanted to get rid of me right away.” The chef sent her to the basement for her uniform, complete with pants that were six sizes too big. “Another cook taught me to use Saran Wrap to make a belt,” she says, “I got into my clothes and went upstairs, where the torture continued.”
“I cut myself but hid it successfully,” says Annie, “I was yelled at to grab kohlrabi and a chinois, and other things I didn’t know the lingo for. But I ended up staying for a year, and I loved it.”
After New York, the couple had a stop in New England, before deciding to give Charleston a try. Being from the South, the architecture spoke to Annie, and with his Portuguese background, Jason appreciated being close to the ocean. “Charleston is not our home,” says Annie, “But we’re going to make it our home and see what we can do to serve the people of Charleston.”
The goal is to find a space to house Annie Mae’s. “We want people to feel like they’re in a Southern bakery as soon as they walk in the door,” says Annie, “We want to show people that through our cakes and pies, but we’ll also serve chicken salad or ham sandwiches on our milk buns. We’ll use local produce for salads and soups.” The couple sees Annie Mae’s as a destination for a quick lunch or a place to order a wedding cake. “We want to celebrate Charleston and celebrate the South in a bakery,” says Annie.
Find the couple at Graft this Sunday, November 19, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., where they will be serving fall-inspired pies.