A turkey dinner may be the spotlight of one holiday meal, but dessert pies served à la mode are welcomed treats throughout the entire season. This is what the co-owners of Pop Pie Co. and Stella Jean’s Ice Cream affectionately call their “busy sweet pie season.”
Partners in both business and life, married couple Gan Suebsarakham and Steven Torres opened the globally-inspired Pop Pie Co. in 2016. Two years later when the pet store next door to their University Heights pie shop became available, they decided to take over the space and turn it into what is now Stella Jean’s specialty ice cream shop.
As executive chef and head ice cream maker, Suebsarakham is inspired by many of the flavors he grew up eating in Thailand, which has a big Australian and British influence. Meat pies, sausage rolls, and other savory pies are commonly seen throughout restaurants and convenience stores in Thailand, where pie culture is alive and well.
Suebsarakham came to the US to attend culinary school at San Diego’s Grossmont College where he focused on pastry. Although he was later forced to drop out of culinary school due to foreign visa issues, he eventually returned to pursue his MBA at National University. He and Torres met through friends and quickly bonded over their passion for food.
With a background in accounting, small business banking, and supply chain management, Torres was perfectly positioned to become the director of operations for their businesses. Together, the two wrote up business plans for Pop Pie Co.—a concept they felt would help fill a void in the current market—while percolating over ideas in local coffeehouses like Twiggs and Heartwork.
They started by experimenting with various dough recipes at home, alternating between butter and shortening mixtures, before landing on their signature all-butter crust. Before opening, they drummed up interest by doing several pop-up events at neighboring businesses.
Today, based on the success of both culinary concepts, the couple has since replicated the businesses in Costa Mesa and has grown to nearly 60 employees in total. At each of their eateries, the staff uses packaging that’s nearly all compostable and recyclable. Before Covid-19, they served ice cream samples in reusable stainless-steel spoons to minimize single-use plastics.
Although Pi Day on March 14 is consistently their busiest day of the year—selling over 1,000 pies—the couple is quick to remind others that the decadent pastry doesn’t require a holiday to enjoy. Flavors change seasonally, but the salted caramel apple crumble topped with salty caramel corn ice cream is a favorite combination that’s available year-round.
For Thanksgiving, seasonal pairings are available including honey bourbon pecan pie with pumpkin cornbread and pepita brittle ice cream, pumpkin pie with brown butter pecan ice cream, and salted honey pie with salty caramel corn ice cream.
Their pecan pie includes honey and orange zest for a more complex flavor, while the ice cream’s chunky cornbread and crunchy pepitas add a nice texture.
Pumpkin pie is made with a flavorful housemade pumpkin spice blend, which is elevated by savory toasted nuts in the gluten-free brown butter pecan ice cream.
The salted honey pie comes as a rich custard made with vanilla, paired with sweet cream ice cream that has yellow corn and salted caramel swirls—a great stand-in for more traditional holiday flavors.