Photography by Lindsay Widdel
Chicago native Maya-Camille Broussard channels her creativity and desire to serve her community into her bakery Justice of the Pies, named in honor of her late father.
What did the path to Justice of the Pies look like? Did you pursue other business ventures before this one?
I received my bachelor’s degree in fine art from Howard University and my master’s degree in theater arts from Northwestern University. My arts background led me to do a lot of outreach teaching on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Shortly after leaving a stint as an art teacher at an elementary school, I opened up Three Peas Art Lounge, an art gallery and bar. A week before the gallery was slated to open, my dad, Steve, passed away. While at the funeral, my cousin suggested that I start a foundation baking pies with kids in memory of him. (He loved pies.)
What is the mission of your business?
Our mission is to be stewards for fairness and equality and to champion causes where we see ourselves being useful. My dad inspired the idea for my bakery, but he didn’t inspire my mission per se. I’ve always lived a purpose-driven life, and my purpose is to do good and always look for ways to be of service to others.
Were you and your dad alike?
My dad and I were actually very different people. He was the life of the party and extremely extroverted. I’m more reserved and very much an introvert. His humor was more slapstick, whereas mine is more dry. He would go with the flow and see where the chips might fall. I am a consummate planner and highly organized. However, he always wanted me to be as independent as possible.
How does being hearing-impaired influence how you show up in the world?
Having a disability means I show up in the world ready to work thrice as hard to prove that I’m just as (if not more) capable than any able-bodied person.
How often do you create new pies? What inspires your flavor ideas?
I don’t have a strict timeline that determines how often I create new pies. I try out a new recipe when the spirit moves me or when a restaurant partner is seeking a new flavor. I just recently created a Passion Fruit Key Lime Pie that was inspired by Goose Island Beer Company’s SPF fruit ale. The ale has notes of passion fruit, and I worked to find ways to incorporate that flavor into a pie.
Do you have certain people you trust to taste your pies and give honest feedback?
When I first started the business, I would ask people to taste my pies. Now I’m more confident and experienced, so I don’t really need anyone else’s opinion. My team and I may do some research and development in the kitchen, and we’ll taste new baked goods internally. I have highly evolved senses of smell and taste (when you lose one sense, your brain adapts by giving more sensory information to another sense), so I know when something needs to stay on the menu or if it belongs in the trash bin.
What is rewarding about building your own business? What do you fear?
The reward is having a certain control over my destiny. And the fear is always failure.
Where did the idea originate for your I Knead Love workshop? Will you talk about a memorable interaction with the kids?
I worked with an organization called Dream On Education when we initially began the culinary workshop, which teaches basic kitchen skills. It was such a great experience that I decided to continue it and work with other organizations such as the Maria Kaupas Center and the Black Law Student Association in Northwestern University’s Law School. There was one young lady at a workshop who had a reputation as a disrupter. She turned out to be my most focused and most talented student. She produced the prettiest pies and quiches that day, and she was working intensely to show me that she could do a good job. Oftentimes, the kids who are seen as troublemakers need more stimulation and an outlet for creativity to show their capabilities. I was told afterward that she was the main kid asking when she could come back to do another workshop. She’s not a disrupter—she’s just misunderstood. She’s likely bored and not being challenged enough.
What pie is your favorite to make?
Salted Caramel Peach Pie.
How do you feel when you’re baking?
Honestly, when I’m in the zone and there’s a certain hum in the kitchen, I can feel invigorated. Other times, when I’m frazzled and there’s a lot happening all at once, I can feel burned out and ready to throw it all away.
How would you describe your process when it comes to creating new pies?
If I’m moved to create something or if recent travels or some sort of other experience inspires a new idea, I run with it and test it out. Sometimes it works out really well, and sometimes I may need to shelve the idea until I can fully think through how I want to tackle it. In 2016, I made a Cucumber Key Lime Pie that tasted amazing but held up disastrously as a slice. I reapproached that flavor several years later when I considered presenting the pie for the the 2020 James Beard Awards’ meal kit. Although I ended up not using the recipe as part of the meal kit, I was able to improve the solidity in which the pie held up as a slice. I’m still working on it, but I’m really happy with its progress.
What words do you live by?
My mom always says, “The fist that is closed to giving is the same fist that is closed to receiving.” I’ve been very blessed with abundance, and I am grateful for what I have and for where I am in life. I sleep in a comfortable bed. I have access to food. I have a delivery van that allows to me make deliveries more easily. I am able to travel, and I have friends and family across the world. I’m good, and I can share a bit of that goodness with someone else.
How do you feel about the term “life’s purpose?”
Just like the term “soul mate,” I believe you can have more than one. I’m living life in the present.
Do you have big dreams for the next five years? Ten years?
I have overarching goals, but I’ve learned to not put a timetable on those goals. They will happen when they’re supposed to happen. People wanted me to have a storefront location, like, yesterday. It isn’t time yet. The time is approaching rather soon, but not before it’s supposed to.
For more info, visit justiceofthepies.com