Cooking up Cozyness (and Pot Pies) with Small Comfort

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 10, 2011 5:00PM

"When you say 'pot pie,' people's eyes light up," explains Cindy Gapinski, as she stirs a pot of pie filling. "I really want people to cook at home, but it's so hard to balance cooking with a full time job." She should know - she spent 12 years in the corporate world, before she left it all behind (she calls it "getting off the treadmill") to start Small Comfort. Small Comfort creates and delivers hand-made, delicious pot pies all over Chicagoland. The pies are delivered frozen, allowing customers to bake up a healthy, delicious meal even after a long day of work. Every step of the work is handled by Cindy herself. She makes the pie dough, pie filling and does the packaging. She even does the delivery herself! Her slogan? "I make pot pies. You put them in your belly."

Chicken pot pie is, predictably, her most popular flavor, and it's the one we got to make. She starts with fresh vegetables, just like the ones you could get in the grocery store, mixes them with flour, spices and home-made chicken stock, and then adds roasted Gunthorp Farms chicken. "I like to know what I'm eating," Cindy explains, and it's pretty clear what Small Comfort customers are getting. Simple, everyday ingredients, treated well and without any additives. Her piecrust has only 4 ingredients: flour, shortening, salt and water. The essence of a pot pie is simplicity - why muck it up with hundreds of new flavors?

That simplicity may account for her success. Her customer list is steadily increasing, and her "regulars" keep coming back over and over again. She makes and sells about 150 pot pies in an average week, though after being featured on ABC earlier this year, she sold out in a few hours. Because the pies are hand-delivered, there is a minimum order of six pies. On the other hand, since they are frozen, those six pies could last you for a month of emergency meals. Cindy's chicken pot pie easily makes an entire meal, especially when paired with a salad or a quick vegetable dish. We threw one in the oven late at night before an early morning flight, and it was a genuine lifesaver.

Cindy started out as a home cook - no formal training. She hit upon the idea of selling pot pies to her friends, and started selling in tiny batches through Facebook. After some friends ordered their fifth batch of pies, she knew she had something. She rented some space at Logan Square Kitchen and started production. She thinks that freezing the pies changed everything - it's not just hand-made comfort food, but hand-made, convenient comfort food.

Each pie costs $7-8. She currently sells 4 flavors: Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, Roasted Veggie Pot Pie and Roasted Root Pot Pie. The last two are vegetarian ("Vegetarians don't get a lot of comfort food") and she can make pies Vegan upon request.

Check out the process in the gallery. It's pretty darn simple - make filling, roll out dough, fill pies, freeze. On the other hand, the pie we made looked kind of mutilated, so clearly there is a lot of skill and practice that goes into making 150 pies a week! Order pies through Small Comfort's website, and if you have any questions or special requests, ask Cindy. She'll take care of you.