Chicago’s South Side is full of inimitable African-American culture and history, and pastry chef Maya-Camille Broussard is adding her sweetness to the place where she was born and raised. In June, Ms. Broussard opened the first brick-and-mortar store of her longtime delivery and wholesale cake business, Justice of the Pies.
The shop, in a former dentist’s office in Avalon Park, one of the South Side’s many historic, predominantly African-American neighborhoods, serves Ms. Broussard’s inventive pies and pastries, such as her calling cards — a blue cheese praline pear pie and strawberry basil Key lime pie — along with unorthodox items like her salted caramel peach pie and deep dish chilaquiles quiche.
Ms. Broussard, who lost 75 percent of her hearing in a childhood accident, may be the industry’s most prominent hard-of-hearing Black pastry chef. She gained a following for her pies through social media, pop-ups and appearances on the Netflix competition show “Bake Squad”. “I realized that being a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community really gave me a superpower,” she said, “and that superpower includes an enhanced sense of smell and taste.”
Mrs. Broussard chose the location of her bakery with the hope of encouraging other chefs and entrepreneurs to join her. “I want to force people who don’t look like me to come to the South Side if they want my pies,” she said. “I want to force people to come to a neighborhood that deserves private investment, a neighborhood that has a rundown corridor, a neighborhood that has empty storefronts.”
Zella Palmer, author and professor at Dillard University in New Orleans who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, said neighborhoods like Avalon Park deserve more inventive Black-owned businesses. “It’s a huge pride in the community to see this sparkling cake shop,” she said. “This is a pastry shop that looks like it could be in Brooklyn, or on Magazine Street in New Orleans, but it’s here.”
Several of the shop’s counters are 32 inches high, meeting the height standards of the American Disabilities Act and making them accessible to wheelchair users. Each section of the store has a different floor tile texture that helps patrons with limited vision who use a walking cane navigate the store.
“How can I be an ambassador for people living with disabilities and have a space that is not accessible?” she said. Signs in the shop bear Braille inscriptions, and language is also designed to be inclusive. (In the bathroom, there are “personal hygiene products” rather than “feminine hygiene products.”) A service door, which has a bell and a flashlight, allows Ms. Broussard to stay aware of important deliveries.
Ms. Broussard started Justice of the Pies in 2014, naming it after her father, Stephen Broussard, a criminal justice attorney and longtime activist. She had a complicated relationship with him and sought healing through the bakery. Mr. Broussard showed a preference for pies, convincing young Mrs. Broussard—an initial skeptic—to give them a chance.
For several years, she worked in different businesses and spaces, while also creating programs to address food insecurity, including teaching youth on the South Side what she describes as “self-sufficiency” skills, such as how to budget, make a grocery list. and follow a recipe.
Mrs. Broussard communicates by reading lips, which requires a level of effort that can slow down her cake-baking. To keep up with demand, the pastry chef keeps her head down while working, and hears ambient sound rather than what a person might be saying to her, leading some customers to think she is ignoring them. (One even ran out, swearing at her before leaving.)
She wants to push the boundaries with her new menu, which will debut in full in September. She talks about including things beyond her pies to round it out — like the dining room, her play on a buttery sugar cookie once served in the city’s public schools. She enjoys tuna melt with sun-dried tomatoes, fig jam, olives and Manchego.
“When people want to play with me and engage with what I’m creating, it makes me feel good because it’s like ‘OK, I’m doing something crazy, but it’s working’.”
8655 South Blackstone Avenue, Chicago, justiceofthepies.com.