We asked Steve Hostetler, our head of New Product Development and Chief Taste Tester, for the inside scoop on what it takes to taste Tippin’s pies every day to make sure they meet our quality standards.
How did you get the job of testing everything Tippin’s makes?
I earned this part of my job due to extensive product knowledge and long-term experience going back to the very early days of Tippin’s, then called Pippin’s Restaurant and Pie Pantry, as some will recall.
How do you manage to maintain your weight when you are eating Tippin’s pies all day long?
Good genes and a lot of walking through our Bakery.
Do you have a favorite thing to taste?
Our Dixie pie: walnuts and dark chocolate. What’s not to like?
Is there anything you don’t like to taste test?
No, not really. There is not one Tippin’s product that I do not like. Evaluating samples from our daily batch runs can be a treat or taste bud overkill. When there are 50 or more samples of any one type of product, any sample becomes less than exciting.
What are the most things you’ve ever tasted in one day?
Our production team may produce 20 to 30 different items in a day and many batches of each. In one day, there can be up to 250 samples of product to evaluate. A few of the products that I get to taste are French Silk filling, fruit pie filling (apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, strawberry rhubarb), German Chocolate filling, Lemon Meringue filling, and Key Lime filling. I also test our baked pies such as Dixie, German Chocolate, Lemon Chess, and so on. There are few things better than eating dessert for a living.
What happens when you go on vacation? Do you have a backup?
My backup person who evaluates the batch runs of product is Baltazar. He has been with the company since 1979. Baltazar’s 38 years of Tippin’s product knowledge and manufacturing expertise are an immeasurable asset to me and the rest of the Research & Development department. Mark, our president, is the backup to the backup, so this part of evaluating our product is covered.
How often do you taste something and know that it needs to be fixed?
I wish I could tell you “never,” but it happens a handful of times a year. It might be that one of the bakers forgot an ingredient or doubled up on another. Tippin’s has many long-term team members who show tremendous pride in their work and the product samples reflect that. They make my part as the Chief Taste Tester a treat.
How long have you had this job?
I have been the Tippin’s Chief Taste Tester for over 10 years.
How long have you worked at Tippin’s?
28 years. I started right out of high school in March 1980, hired on as a dish washer at Pippin’s Restaurant and Pie Pantry at the age of 17. I was asked to work in the bakery after the first week. After the first store was open a year, I helped train with the “opening training crew” for eight years and in four states. I met my now wife in one the St. Louis Tippin’s Restaurants. We moved out east, started our family. Then clicked our heels back to Kansas and I have been with Tippin’s 20 more years.
What training do you have to be a taste tester?
We were trained to taste our products to check quality standards on a batch-by-batch basis by the Master Baker Gene Steele, who developed all of the original Pippin’s (now Tippin’s) pies along with his wife, Mrs. Rosie Steele. These two very special people were our mentors. Keeping with tradition, we do what we were taught.
What is your favorite Tippin’s pie?
There are many excellent products at Tippin’s, so to narrow my favorite to only one pie would be very difficult. Dixie pie is my favorite nut pie, and it takes care of my chocolate fix, too. Egg Custard is a classic old-time favorite, and Peach Cooler, which is only made at Hen House Market stores in August – those round off my Top 3. Last but not least, Lemon Supreme and our award-winning Key Lime pie are my favorite tart pies from Tippin’s.
As the head of New Product Development for Tippin’s, what are you working on now?
We are converting most of our pie line to a “clean label” ingredient list. “Clean label” means that we are working to remove artificial colors, artificial flavoring and non-natural preservatives from our pies.
We have achieved “clean label” status for Tippin’s fruit pies, and they are currently in production. The no-sugar-added fruit pies as well as our cream pies are in the developmental stage. We are getting closer by the day to achieving “clean label” success in the Tippin’s cream pie line. There are many food trends that come and go, but the clean label movement is not a fad, nor a trend. Clean label is becoming the new standard, and shoppers look for it. We want to offer a decadent dessert made with the best ingredients we can source and keep our consumers’ best interests in mind.
Have you ever created anything that was just awful?
Many times. Trial runs are just that. Trial runs. 99% are failures. But failures eliminate what doesn’t work, which is one step closer to making “it” work. It’s very gratifying to get it right and to see people’s reactions when they taste our creations.