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Originally published November 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 27, 2008 at 8:25 AM

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Costco has pumpkin pies down to a science

Costco stores nationwide bake around the clock Thanksgiving week, churning out more than 1 million pumpkin pies in military precision. The big question: Did they make enough?

Seattle Times staff reporter

That's a lot of pies

How many?

Costco will bake and sell more than 1 million pumpkin pies this week.

Today, they will sell half a million.

They'll sell more than 3 million pumpkin pies throughout "pumpkin-pie season," which runs from Labor Day to New Year's Eve.

What's in a million pies?

707,000 6-pound, 10-ounce cans, or 4.7 million pounds, of pumpkin

More than 1.4 million pounds of fresh eggs (roughly 12.6 million eggs)

Source: Costco

When today's final batches of Thanksgiving pumpkin pies emerge from Costco ovens across the land, managers need wait only a few hours to answer one of the year's most pressing questions:

Did they bake enough?

It's a vital concern. By day's end, Costco expects to have sold more than 1 million fresh-baked, giant $5.99 pumpkin pies during this short week when in-store bakeries run around the clock.

"It's an adrenaline rush, that's for sure," says Mike Cruz, director of West Coast bakeries for the Issaquah-based warehouse chain.

So busy are stores that the wheeled pie-laden carts in transit from bakeries to mammoth refrigerated store cases grow lighter as they go; harried shoppers trot alongside and pluck off pies, then make haste for the cash registers.

Only a handful of times in his 20-plus years at Costco can Cruz recall running dry on pies. All the work that takes place this week, with militarylike precision, is designed to prevent that tragic outcome.

"Everything's planned out by day. If you don't have a strategy, you're going in blind," Cruz said Sunday night, hairnet in place, leading a pie brigade at the Tukwila Costco's bakery. "Issaquah's doing the same thing tonight. So's Seattle and Bellingham and Portland."

Tukwila's bakery fits the chain's reputation: Everything is on a gargantuan scale. Stainless canisters the size of kitchen cabinets hold chocolate chips, sugar, cocoa.

Costco's blend of pumpkin-pie spice arrives in sacks. A neat blue binder serves as cookbook, thick with formulas and baking times.

During this busy half-week, managers stamp out fresh pie crust alongside workers.

The holiday season is all hands on deck, and that's good for morale, workers say.

"Managers are everywhere, helping all the time," said Camilla Dizdarvic, of Renton.

Two by two, she fills 12-inch pie shells with bright orange pumpkin-pie mix from a pitcher — her personal best was 1,800 pies in a single night. The rich scent of baking pies permeates the bakery, tucked in a corner of the otherwise deserted warehouse.

Across the bakery, Doug Roffler, of Covington, stirs can after 6-pound-10-ounce can of pumpkin into megamixers, along with sacks of spice.

One million pies equals roughly 4.7 million pounds of pumpkin and roughly 12.6 million fresh eggs, by Costco's figures.

"She keeps me going," Roffler said of Dizdarvic, his partner in pies for nearly a decade. They egg each other on, literally.

Roffler pours plastic sacks of fresh, shelled, raw egg into his mixers to keep up with Dizdarvic, who fills pie crusts at a pace to keep up with the ovens, which are being emptied at intervals by Cruz.

Let no oven stand empty, the mantra goes.

Racks of pies are pushed into upright ovens 48 at a time. Inside they rotate in the heat for about an hour.

They are racked as they emerge, and a sticker is slapped on each rack, a reminder of exactly how long the pies should cool before they're chilled, wrapped and stored.

Sunday night was warm-up night, and Tukwila's goal was 1,000 pies. That figure rose as the week progressed.

Of course, pumpkin pies aren't all that's cooking this week. The other side of each bakery is cranking out fresh dinner rolls, muffins, Danish, birthday cakes, and chocolate, apple and pecan pies — the other essential sweets of life.

By Roffler's calculations, he mixed just over 1 ton of pumpkin-pie filling last year at Thanksgiving time. But he hasn't grown tired of pumpkin pie.

"I still have a piece when I go home," he said, ripping open another fragrant sack of spices.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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