TRAVERSE CITY — Mike Busley remembers what it was like to work in a world of corporate downsizing.
Busley, co-founder of Grand Traverse Pie Company, labored for defense contractors General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin in Southern California for 16 years. He watched in the 1990s as budget cuts claimed the jobs of thousands of his co-workers.
“They laid off people, transferred people, closed buildings, sold real estate,” Busley said.
The turmoil prompted Busley to consider a different career path with his wife, Denise.
“I didn’t feel real passionate about (my job,)” Busley said. “I didn’t feel real good going to work every day when I kept wondering, ‘Is your number going to be called?’”
Denise Busley also was disenchanted with her career in medical sales in Southern California. The Michigan natives talked about returning to start their own small business, a notion that led to the formation of Grand Traverse Pie Company.
“I literally thought we would come to Traverse City, we would make maybe 50 pies a day, hopefully sell them, eke out a living and go kayaking with the kids,” Denise Busley said.
The beginnings of the business were carefully planned. The Busleys modeled their pie effort after a small pie shop in Julian, Calif., that they’d visited on vacation. The owner of that shop spent weeks training the Busleys on making pies and running a customer-friendly business.
Mike Busley became “the oven guy.” Denise Busley focused on welcoming customers.
“I used to be known as the pie lady,” Denise said. “We’d take the kids to the movies or a function at school and people would ask, ‘Aren’t you the pie lady?’ No one really knew my name.”
The couple’s years of labor paid off. The business expanded significantly over the last 17 years, with 15 shops now open. Fourteen of those outlets are in Michigan. Last year the company welcomed 2.5 million customers.