What could take the out-dated version of the ice cream sandwich to the next level? Put a layer of pie filling in the middle and sell it! That’s what Peace Pie in Charleston, SC, is doing, and business is off the charts. Peace Pie took the basic concept of an ice cream sandwich, added a twist, and now people are flocking to their stores to try tantalizing pie flavors like Coconut Cream, Pecan Pie, Banana Cream, and their popular Salted Caramel Brownie. We took some time to sit down with the “Prince of Peace Pie” himself, Joe Klause, to learn more about his fascinating journey from South Jersey to France, his pot smoking days, and what it’s like to be running his very own Peace Pie in Charleston. At the ripe young age of 29, Joe’s a laid-back guy with a lot of life experience in living abroad, studying music, and a taste for the Coconut Cream flavor.
Joe grew up in South Jersey and left when he was 18 to attend the New England Conservatory in Boston. He’s a classical musician that plays the trumpet and later got his bachelor’s degree in classical trumpet performance at the Conservatory. Joe then decided to take a year to relax and enjoy himself. “I took a year off, and smoked a bunch of pot. And then, came back and… stopped smoking pot. I ended up going back into a double degree program where I studied chamber music. I also got a master’s degree in Dalcroze Eurhythmics which is the study of music through movement. It’s sort of an esoteric way of teaching music. It comes out of Geneva, Switzerland.” During his year off, he took up yoga and it became more than just a casual hobby. He practiced and taught the art pretty intensely for quite some time.
He admittedly had very little experience in cooking. At the time, he was in France with his then girlfriend studying music. His dad had come up with the idea of selling ice cream sandwiches 3-4 years prior to Joe’s time in France. They bounced around ideas for a while, and his dad created this wholesale product of an ice cream sandwich with a layer of pie filling. The summer prior to his time in France, he helped his dad sell ice cream sandwiches at a local farmer’s market in Jersey which was fairly successful. Joe’s thought was that he didn’t have enough money to live in France, so he was going to go back to the states to sell ice cream sandwiches during the summer in order to make enough money to move back to France. Joe’s education wasn’t cheap, so his student loans played a factor in his decision to move back to South Jersey. They started selling them in two farmer’s markets which later grew to nine and several other festivals. However, Joe didn’t make enough money to go back to France and his relationship fizzled out as well. So he stuck around South Jersey with the plan of opening up a store. Peace Pie opened up in Cape May, NJ, last summer, and that was with the notion that he would not be living in Jersey. His remarkable journey led him to relocate to Charleston, SC, to open up a second Peace Pie this past February and business has been rolling ever since.
Joe and his father may have been the masterminds behind Peace Pie, but everyone in the Klause family is lending a helping hand in the business. His mother makes the pie fillings in the Cape May store on a daily basis and ships the fillings in frozen containers to Joe in Charleston. His sister is credited with the design of Peace Pie, and she manages the website and other social pages. His family has endured a few ups and downs along the way, but would it really be a family without a few bumps in the road? Joe agrees that it’s great that the business has brought everyone together. Jokingly, of course, Joe said, “Yeah, it’s great. I’m 800 miles away. I’ve got the best role in this business.” While it is a family affair, Joe credits his father as the brains of the operation. If you thought Joe had quite the resume, just wait until you here more about his father, Jerry.
Before the idea of Peace Pie was ever conceived, Jerry owned a t-shirt company called OATS (Ocean Atlantic Textile Screen Printing) in the 80s and 90s. It was actually the largest independent t-shirt company on the East Coast for a number of years. He developed the way to print on black t-shirts and how to print on the full t-shirt rather than just the center. Printing on black t-shirts was so revolutionary because this was the same era of the rock band craze. He was virtually the only t-shirt company that could print ink on black t-shirts with band logos that consisted of A-listers like Nirvana, Goo Goo Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, etc. and that’s pretty damn neat when you think about it.
Jerry also started one of the most successful charter schools in New Jersey. Joe explained that it’s particularly difficult to start a charter school in New Jersey. When Joe was in second grade, Jerry served as the president of the school board in Ocean City where he grew up. He later started his own school for the performing arts called Charter Tech in Somer’s Point, NJ. Believe it or not, Jerry also currently has a list of Burger King franchises that he oversees. He credits a lot of his success at running businesses to his time at the popular burger chain.
So how did Joe come up with the idea of selling ice cream sandwiches with pie filling in the middle? He credits his research and development in the business to smoking pot, and he’s totally cool about it. “People ask me all of the time, ‘How did you come up with this idea?’ Pot on my part and tequila on my dad’s, and that’s the truth. But, I can’t do it anymore, and it sucks. I have an adult life now.” While discussing the ongoing debate regarding the legalization of marijuana, Joe said there’s four drugs that he cannot be without at one time. “Sugar, caffeine, pot, and alcohol. Those four drugs, I always have to be doing at least one. I rarely have done none of them. I can’t remember the last time I was truly truly sober.”
As hilarious, honest, and satisfying Joe’s story is, we did have some time to ask him a few questions about business and the future of Peace Pie.
So, Prince of Peace Pie, how did Peace Pie get it’s name?
My dad was sitting at a bar with his friend eating a piece of peanut butter chiffon pie at a restaurant in South Jersey. It was originally going to be called Pie Scream. But, it was trademarked by a woman in Florida, and she wanted a bunch of money for it. So we said no… They were eating this pie and, it was amazing. In fact, when I graduated high school the owner gave me a full peanut butter chiffon pie. My dad’s friend said, “If everybody in the world could stop in this moment and eat a piece of this pie, there would be world peace.” Then, they said Peace Pie! They took a look at the trademark, and it was actually a Ben and Jerry’s trademark. They had one more extension on it. When they didn’t use it, my dad was on it, and that was sort of his inclination to do it.
How many flavors or flavor combinations?
Roughly 35, probably more. I have 23 in the case right now. I sell 24 at one time normally. I sort of rotate in and out.
What’s your favorite flavor?
Coconut Cream. It’s a shortbread cookie, vanilla ice cream, and coconut cream pie filling.
Is there a crowd favorite?
Salted Caramel Brownie is the best seller. But, You’ve got to realize that people coming in the store are not making an educated decision. They’re coming in here and looking at the menu for the first time and saying, “Ooh, Salted Caramel Brownie!” It’s exciting, but at the same time it’s safe. It’s chocolate cookie, vanilla ice cream, salted caramel, and brownie. How could that be bad? It’s a brownie sundae. It’s absolutely delicious. But, I actually make it my personal mission to sell as few Salted Caramel Brownies as possible.
If you could pick a slogan or one-word description for Peace Pie, what would it be?
My dad really likes “Way Cool and Then Some”. I like to call them “5-Minute Sessions in Heaven”. We have a hashtag we really like which is called “#TheConeIsDead”. I don’t know… Delicious?
What does the future look like?
There’s definitely going to be more Peace Pies. Not exactly sure what we’re doing with it yet. We might franchise it, we might just keep it as a strategic partnership. We might just grow it organically. That’s actually the question that has been burning on our minds since this store opened. But, it’s one that can’t be answered right now. Peace Pie will be everywhere. There’s a truth to Peace Pie. People tell me I’m a good salesman. I always tell them, “I’m not selling, I’m exposing people to the truth.” They’re just delicious. It’s the best ice cream sandwich that you’ve ever had.