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VOL. 41 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 27, 2017

‘Pie Man’ proudly shares Nashville’s sweet side

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Herman Patton, aka “The Pie Man,” has pushed pies to celebrities, TV shows, sports radio call-in shows and to strangers on the streets of Nashville.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Herman Patton joyfully hollers “everything is pie-tastic” in the world of his heroic alter ego.

“Just call me ‘The Pie Man,’” he says of the gastronomic super hero name he has earned by baking, selling and giving away pies, with generous doses of smiles on the side.

Being that alter ego, The Pie Man, is his life’s calling, leading him to wander the streets of the city, dispensing pies and upbeat wisdom, destroying evil thoughts.

And occasionally, his alter ego goes even farther to help those in need of crimped crusts filled with nuts, fruit or other delights.

Heck, he even did his bit for the NFL, specifically the San Francisco 49ers.

Super Bowl time is upon us, but that one-time championship dynasty did not have a season that would put them even within smelling distance of glory. But, as Herman will tell you, it’s not because they didn’t get enough pie.

Actually, Herman sent some pies to the West Coast as a treat for his son, Quinton, a 6-foot, 205-pound wide receiver for the 49ers.

“I shipped some pies out for him to share with some of his teammates,” he says. Those pastries were delivered to his son’s front door. And promptly swiped.

“Someone wanted our pies awful bad,” adds Herman, 65, who just months before endured a heist of some of his namesake merchandise from the North Nashville bakery.

We’ll talk more about those horrid heists later in this column, but first please allow me to introduce you – if you’ve not met him yet – to Nashville’s king of tarts.

“Call me The Pie Man. That’s what everybody knows me as,” Herman insists.

While that’s certainly an appropriate title, I tell him I’ll simply call him Herman as “The Pie Man” seems just too damn formal, given the relaxed nature of our encounters. He doesn’t mind, although many of those he meets up with never learn his real name.

“I’ve done a lot of self-promoting. Everyone knows who The Pie Man is.

“Whenever somebody new comes to Nashville, I take them pies,” he says, noting he has carted baked pastries to office buildings, government hallways and television and movie sets. Heck, he might even give you one if you meet up with him on the street.

He notes that the pies coming from Sweet Creations – the neighborhood bakery he started with Barbara Toms, even have found their way into pop culture.

“Do you remember the TV show ‘Unforgettable’ with Poppy Montgomery? They wrote our pies into the script,” Herman says, wonder lacing his voice.

“They was trying to find a peach-blueberry pie. They wanted eight pies. The network had them overnighted,” so the crimped-crusts would be on time for their star turns.

Before I can ask him how Poppy Montgomery – the comely and talented red-head whose mystery show appeared both on CBS and then later on A&E – learned about the pies he and Barbara Toms have been baking for a few years, he is on to the next item.

“And our pie was on the show ‘Nashville’ in that big wedding.”

Herman also tries to make sure he knows what comedians, singers, sports heroes, etc., are coming to Nashville.

“I find out who’s coming to town, and I find out where they are and I give them a pie,” he explains.

For example actors/comedians DL Hughley and Bruce Bruce have been on the receiving end of his promotional generosity. “I also gave pie to that young man who was on ‘Cosby’…. Yeah, Malcolm-Jamal Warner.”

“The mayor, the chief of police, all of them, I give them a tart (the 3-inch pocket pies which he uses as his calling cards).

“And I gave pies to everybody who was running for office this last election.”

He’s speaking of local elections, although I’m sure our new president would have gladly held a nice 3-inch pecan pie in his little-bitty hands.

Pies know no politics and love big mouths.

Herman, The Pie Man, notes he works hard to spread the gospel of the stuff that is made at Sweet Creations.

He admits to a habit of calling local radio sports talk shows to discuss football … and likely toss in a note about the young wide receiver for the 49ers. And then, while the radio guys yak away with their turgid commentary, he’ll drop in a good word or two about Sweet Creations’ pies.

“Can’t sell anything if nobody knows about it,” Herman says.

Fact is, he is known for walking up to complete strangers – they are strangers but once, I should note – and handing them one of the 3-inch pocket pies whose legend began pretty much spreading first from Toms’ kitchen and then from the basement of 15th Avenue Baptist Church, a splendid church on Ninth Avenue North, a couple blocks removed from the bakery.

Yes. 15th Avenue Church is on Ninth Avenue. I’m sure there is a logical and historical reason for this, but this column is not about the church and I often defy logic. It should be pointed out that Barbara Toms’ grandfather was the church founder, and Herman is a greeter and door-holder.

Getting back to Herman, though, one of the things that most stands out on first meeting is the cordial, gentlemanly laugh, filled with the same jovial spirit that, along with free pie, has chased the gloom from the demeanors of many Nashvillians, visitors and West Coast football players.

“Don’t do no good to be down,” Herman says. “Got to appreciate each day.”

With all that as the lead-up, I guess now it’s time to talk more about the great pie heists, the desperate and dastardly pastry pilfering that has troubled him.

Those heists occurred both here in Nashville – at the bakery when it was on Ninth before moving to 10th for more room – and in Santa Clara, the California city which for some reason is home to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Pie Man tries to grow somber as I press him for more information on the pie heists. But he can’t do it. He’s just too high on life (or perhaps he’s just eaten too much pie) to let some desperadoes here and in California bring him down.

“Someone broke into the shop last year. They broke in on Small Business Day a year ago,” he points out. “They knocked out the windows and they stole six pecan pies and two large sweet potato pies.”

While he hardly condones the damage and grand theft pie from Sweet Creations, he offers one explanation:

“They couldn’t help it. They wanted some of those pies,” says The Pie Man, who is not the kind of fellow capable of allowing cowardly pie pilferers to ruin his fun.

Not long after that great pie heist, though, Herman sent pies out to Santa Clara for his son.

“That’s my youngest son,” he says of the former Stratford, La Vergne and Louisiana Tech star, taken in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

“This is his contract year, so I’m hoping he’ll hit a home run,” adds The Pie Man, mixing metaphors but not sentiments. “This could be the jackpot year.

“I made pies for him and some of his teammates,” Herman says. “When they delivered them, they put the box in front of his doors. They stole the pies from there.

“It was like back-to-back. Wow. I guess they just had to have them. They were pie-tastic. They were just pied out, man. They couldn’t help themselves.

“After they stole the pies from him, I flew out there and made pies for him and his teammates. Stayed with him five days and got to see a game, too,” he adds.

Quinton is not on a 49ers team that in any way resembles the Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice football dynasty. This year’s 49ers, even fueled by bellies filled with tasty pie, finished 2-14.

“We just had a bad year. A very bad year. The first year he was there we went to the playoffs and lost to Seattle. This year we weren’t too great, No. 2 from the bottom,” says the proud papa and pie provider.

“Of course when it all winds up, there will be 30 other losing teams out there. Ain’t but one winner. Everyone else is losers.”

That same philosophy could, of course, be tied to the political campaigns. For example, Trump (who likely enjoys pies himself) triumphed over his foes, but as Herman says “everyone else is losers.”

Herman and Barbara Toms began their business in 2010 after their mutual missions collided at the church they both attend on Ninth Avenue.

“Ms. Barbara was making some pies, really her mother’s recipes,” Herman recalls.

“I said ‘you make some pretty good pies.’ And I said ‘I make good pies, too.’”

At first the two – who remain friends despite some personal/business differences they are working through – decided to bake together in Barbara’s kitchen.

“We ran out of space, so we leased a part of the church kitchen to expand our business,” he says.

And the need for space continued to be a problem. First they leased a building at Ninth and Monroe, near the Kroger.

But with their orders increasing, and The Pie Man continuing to build a brand by handing out pocket pies throughout Nashville, they needed even more space.

A few months ago, the operation moved to 942 Jefferson St. – on the corner of 10th and Jefferson. Herman says it’s been a good year, although he admits he’s not around the bakery much right now while the two partners work out their differences.

“We’re still working on it, OK,” he explains. “You’re going to have those kinds of things in the road in any operation.”

Ms. Toms is a bit more succinct on The Pie Man’s role in future plans.

“Mr. Patton is a partner in the pie company. Mr. Patton, when he was working as an employee of the company, he had the moniker Pie Man, but we don’t use that anymore.” (He does remain, at this writing, featured on the Sweet Creations website, however.)

Ms. Toms says there are no plans to bring back The Pie Man.

But, as Herman says: “I am still The Pie Man; you can’t knock that title off of me.”

He must wait for things to work out before he can reload on pies at the bakery, although he still makes some at home. “I want to give away more pies.”

Here’s hoping The Pie Man and the bakery work things out, and he’s back on the street with his sweet tarts.

One aspect added to the business in the last few months: Sweet Creations is giving work to former convicts, folks whose work opportunities are scarred for good by their pasts. Here, they can find work, build resumes and recommendations, demonstrate they are worth another shot at life, Herman says.

“These people are down on their luck, but if a person brushes themselves off, they deserve another chance,” he says. “Some people may have done wrong, but they may not be all wrong. Their offense may be pardonable and they are ready for a second chance.”

Toms – an ordained minister as well as a former criminal attorney – says this program is a long-term commitment for Sweet Creations. “We’re making pies with a purpose,” she says of the program.

“When I hire them there is a paycheck in their hands and they’re like us,” she says. “This levels the playing field. Treating people just like people.”

The Pie Man served his own apprenticeships by working for eight years as a line cook at a couple of area Travel Centers of America locations.

“Yes sir, I got the presidential service award and the whole thing, all the badges, they wrote me up in their magazines,” he says. “That was a 24-hour-a-day menu. I made a pretty good Philly cheese steak out that way.”

While he never was called “The Philly Cheese Steak Man,” he did have an earlier, food-generated nickname. When he was 15, he started work at the soda fountain of the historic Walgreen’s in the Arcade.

Because of that job and the fact he was dispensing single-dip cones for a dime, double-dips for 15 cents, triple scoops for a quarter, he was dubbed “The Ice Cream Man” when he was in high school.

“That’s the oldest Walgreen’s in the world,” he says proudly. He didn’t mind being The Ice Cream Man, but in truth that was just an after-school job not a professional destination.

Probably oughta note that when he worked for a few years out at Aladdin, he was known as “The Cup Doctor,” because he silk-screened sample thermal cups with company logos for Aladdin customers. If the clients like how they looked, more were ordered.

But it’s his most-recent nickname that he carries with him everywhere. Like Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Clark Kent is Superman and Bruce Wayne is Batman, Herman is The Pie Man. It is his professional destiny, even when his bakery partner says that nickname is a thing of the past.

One of my meetings with The Pie Man is outside the Heritage Medical Associates complex on 22nd Avenue North, where Herman had taken his girlfriend for some tests.

“She’s going to be fine,” he says, as we duck out of the patient drop-off ramp area and out to the curb on State Street.

“Who’s the star?” asks an older woman, leaving the medical center just as I had begun taking photographs of Herman for use with this column.

“I’m The Pie Man, ma’am; can I help you down off that curb and across the street?” Herman asks his soft voice sweeter than sweet potato pie.

As they slowly cross the street to a parking lot, he describes to this woman the great pies that can be bought at Sweet Creations at 942 Jefferson St.

“I’ll stop by there sometime,” she says.

He looks at her and smiles. “That’s pie-tastic.”

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