MIDDLEPORT, Ohio — People come and go, but the pies remain.
Just ask Millie Duncan of Millie’s Restaurant just outside Middleport where the money is in the meringue.
In 2011, a reviewer from “Saveur” magazine said the meringue topping on Millie’s banana cream pie doubled the pie’s height — a pie which the magazine also said exceeded benchmarks for excellence. “Saveur” ended up ranking Millie’s Restaurant at 21 on its annual list of the 100 best restaurants and bakeries.
So how does a woman originally from Mason County now living in Meigs County end up in a national magazine dedicated to world cuisine? Eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.
Years ago when Millie and husband Stanley had chickens, they’d sell farm fresh eggs. If the eggs were cracked, they couldn’t be sold but Millie, not wanting to wasted them, decided to use them to bake, and bake, and bake — specifically pies. Word began to get around around Millie’s pies, and she started working out of her house, baking everyday. Then in 1988, she and Stanley built a bakery beside their home which later became what is now Millie’s Restaurant.
Millie said she decided to get into the bakery/restaurant business to use her talent for baking to make a living — and the risk has paid off. Millie expanded her menu which includes not only a long list of favorite pies but she brought back home cooking in a big way. Millie said instead of anticipating what is next like a lot of other restaurant owners, she simply tries to stay consistent — consistency (as well as eggs) is another ingredient for her success.
“Baking from scratch is a lost art,” Millie said, explaining even the rolls and mashed potatoes are made from scratch at her place, and she is “absolutely hands on” when it comes to preparing the food.
Also, don’t worry home cooking fans, the baked steak will never come off the menu. Millie said her customers wouldn’t stand for that and really, it’s all about giving the customers what they want.
Still, the restaurant business can be a tough one. Days at Millie’s Restaurant typically start at 5:30 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. with the doors staying open seven days a week. When the restaurant is hopping, it cans seat 90, and things get really busy when Millie has special catering jobs going at the same time. The day of this interview, she was preparing to cater an event for 250 people at one of the Appalachian Electric Power plants in Gallia County.
With all the demands her business puts on her life, Millie said she’s told herself she’s going to quit a million times but added, “that thought never lasts long,” certainly not compared to how long Millie’s Restaurant (and those pies) has lasted. Nearly 15 years later, Millie’s Restaurant has outlasted many ups and downs in the economy and continues to be one of the area’s thriving businesses and even a tourist attraction, of sorts. Though she has her “regulars,” many of her customers are from out of the county.
When asked what she’s most proud of about her business, Millie said, “That it succeeded,” against the odds of its location (which is off the beaten path) and the odds of a small business/restaurant making it.
Customers are definitely loyal to what they like about Millie, even the ones who live out of the area, and she continues to ship pies across the state and country. Her most popular remains coconut cream.
Oh, and another secret to her success (besides the eggs and consistency), is the recipes. Like any chef (who is one part mathematician, one part magician) Millie keeps her recipes a closely guarded secret. So remember, you can ask for a piece of pie but don’t even think of asking how it was made.