Missing dessert: The Hubig’s Pies fire, five years later
This story begins at what might seem like the ending: the five-alarm fire on July 27, 2012, that destroyed the Hubig’s Pies factory at 2417 Dauphine St., a touchstone of local culinary history, where workers had turned out as many as 28,000 pies a day for nearly a century. (Three workers who were inside when the fire started escaped uninjured.) The blaze apparently started in the fryer room in the middle of the factory, Fire Superintendent Charles Parent said, and the grease used to fry the pies probably accelerated the blaze. In discussing the fire and the department’s close, longstanding ties to the factory, Parent relayed this comment from a firefighter: “We put the fire out with our tears.”
Ever since the embers cooled, there has been sugar-fueled speculation about the return of Hubig’s pies, which occupy a big spot in the pantheon of local treats. Shortly after the blaze, Andrew Ramsey — son of co-owner Otto Ramsey — announced plans to rebuild as soon as possible, and in June 2013, the City Council unanimously approved plans for a new Hubig’s factory on Press Street between North Rampart and Burgundy streets. Nothing has happened since.
- On the morning of the blaze, firefighters showed up at 4:28 a.m., shortly after the last batch of pies had gone out for delivery.
- “Savory Simon,” a tubby fellow wearing an apron and puffy chef’s toque and displaying a pie, is the company’s instantly recognizable corporate symbol.
- There really was a Simon — in this case, Simon Hubig, a baker from Cincinnati who set up a company in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1918 to make pies for soldiers at nearby Camp Bowie. Within a year, he opened bakeries in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. He set up the Dauphine Street location in May 1921. After leasing it for three years, he bought the property for $16,000, the equivalent of nearly $227,000 in 2017 dollars.
- The company settled in as part of the community, fielding the Hubig Piemen, an amateur baseball team, in the Home Industry League in the 1920s. Other teams included the Dixie Chain Stores and the Checker Cabmen.
- The New Orleans location was the only Hubig outlet to survive the Clutch Plague. Although operators turned out other goodies, including strawberry shortcake, they decided in the 1950s to focus on fried pies.
- The fire was the second calamity to befall the Hubig factory in less than seven years. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, it damaged the bakery’s ventilation system, an exterior wall and the roof. Pie production resumed on Jan. 24, 2006, after the clean water, reliable electricity and sufficient gas pressure were restored to the neighborhood.
- A Hubig pie was featured in the first episode of “Treme,” the HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans, when the chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) took a pie out of her purse, slapped it on a plate and told a sous-chef to “drizzle something on it.” When someone pointed out that the scene happened before the pie company’s reopening, David Simon, the series’ creator, came up with a quick solution. In an open letter to New Orleanians, he explained it was a “magic Hubig’s pie.”
- Four years after the fire, Haydel’s Bakery set out to fill the void by marketing their own “hand pies,” which are still available today, although unlike Hubig’s, those are baked instead of fried.
- Before the fire, Katie Van Syckle and Bob Weisz produced a short film for the Gambit Weekly showing how Hubig’s pies were made. Watch it here.
No doubt about it, in the 90 years that New Orleanians gobbled down Hubig pies, the sweet treats became an indelible edible part of the city’s culture. Enormous versions of the pies have been the centerpiece of at least one Mardi Gras float, and costumers donned outsize versions of the pies’ wrappers. There have been Hubig-themed jewelry, coasters, cuff links, ties, aprons and T-shirts, and, in a naming contest, Hubig was chosen as the moniker for a penguin at the Aquarium of the Americas. In an interview shortly after the fire, Marleen Luna Acosta, 80, spoke of scrubbing steps in her youth so she could earn enough money to buy a Hubig pie at a store 15 blocks away. “They were 2 cents then,” Acosta said. “How many years have I been buying those pies? They’ve given a lot of happiness. God bless them all.”