There are certain things almost every one associates with the Kentucky Derby– super horses, of course, a garland of roses, mint juleps… and Derby-Pie®. While most things about the derby are as conspicuous as a funny hat, that pie is shrouded in mystery.
Alan Rupp, president of Kern’s Kitchen, says the recipe has always been a secret. “Anyone who comes to the shop signs a confidentiality agreement even though they’re not privy to the recipe.”
The chocolate nut pie comes from the Louisville bakery. It’s been around since 1950 when Alan Rupp’s grandparents created the signature dessert for a restaurant they managed. Now, 68 years later, this kitchen, with fewer than ten employees, turns out more than a thousand pies a day.
Besides family members, only one person knows exactly what goes into the pies. That’s the production manager and when he’s mixing the recipe, he’s hidden behind a curtain marked with a sign that says “No one gets in to see the wizard.”
But after a few minutes, pie filling is pumped out through a hole in the curtain to be filled in shells and popped in the ovens.
Rupp’s grandparents couldn’t decide on a name for the pie and put several suggestions in a hat. Derby-Pie® was the lucky draw and the name has been so successful, the family had it trademarked in 1968. Several restaurants and bakeries have wound up in court for using the name.
Rupp says, “Anyone can make a Kentucky pie or a Bluegrass pie or any kind of chocolate nut pie. As long as they don’t use the trademark to designate their product, we don’t have a problem in the world.”
That high level of name protection is just another ingredient in the pie’s mystique.
“We work hard not to get into litigation,” Rupp said, “but there have been several times we’ve had to bring in the lawyers and let the courts decide.”
The verdict that matters most to Rupp is the one that comes in the court of public opinion. Because demand doubles this time of year, he knows they’re doing something right.
He loves it when he’s passing out samples at food shows and sees first-timers come back for more.
“I strongly suggest you serve it oven warmed… not microwaved. Oven warmed is best and that’s when everybody comes to play.”
He also suggests serving it with a scoop of ice cream or bourbon whipped cream.
What’s in a name? In this case, history and mystery… and a marketing plan that’s been a sure bet.