SHERIDAN — It started in a cooking class during Ciara Johnson’s sophomore year at Sheridan High School. What began with a small raspberry pie expanded into nearly 200 pastries and donations to several families over the next three years. Johnson, who graduated from SHS in May, had never made a pie before that course, but she enjoyed the process and other people seemed to appreciate her talents as well.
“I just made this itty bitty little one and my dad was like, ‘That was good,’” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ … It was a very spur of the moment kind of thing.”
Encouraged by the positive response, Johnson initiated a side business in 2016 selling pies to classmates and teachers during November and December. She used the proceeds from the pie sales to purchase items for students and families at Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School, including gift cards, clothing items and toys.
Johnson made 30 pies the first year and about 80 each year for the following two years. During the busiest stretch, she created about 60 pies from scratch in two weeks. Despite the long hours, Johnson relished the process. She had her cooking down to a science and often made eight pies every day after school.
Johnson made all flavors of delectables, including pumpkin, apple, cherry, key lime, strawberry and chocolate cream. Apple pies were the most popular and also her favorite to make, especially after she purchased an apple peeler in the second year and became significantly more efficient.
SHS English teacher Carol Stewart taught Johnson in a college-level speech class this past spring.
Stewart heard about the pie business when she was in another teacher’s classroom and Johnson stopped in.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Stewart said.
Stewart bought multiple pies from Johnson several times over the course of three years. Her favorite kind was cherry, but Stewart also enjoyed key lime, mixed berry and chocolate cream.
SHS math teacher Tim Daniels also bought pies in recent years from Johnson.
He called them excellent, delectable treats.
“She does such a good job making them,” Daniels said. “…Everything she does is just top-notch.”
In addition to purchasing pastries from her, Daniels instructed Johnson in a pre-calculus class this year and said she was an outstanding pupil.
“She works well with other students and just brings a good attitude to class every day,” Daniels said.
Stewart concurred. The English instructor said Johnson had a “beautiful combination” of energy, motivation, a sense of humor and enthusiasm that helped her excel in the classroom.
Johnson usually wheeled the tasty tarts through school in a portable cooler, a sight that Stewart said always brought a smile to her face.
Daniels said the hobby provided an outlet for Johnson as well.
“I think baking is kind of a nice relief for her, and it’s a nice passion for her,” Daniels said.
Indeed, Johnson called making pies a relaxing exercise, especially once she honed her process.
This fall, Johnson will attend Sheridan College and study business management and administration. Since she will still reside in town, Johnson will likely provide some of her former SHS instructors with custom desserts. Stewart and Daniels said they plan to order pies from Johnson around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Pie-making could be part of Johnson’s long-term plans as well. She eventually wants to open her own business and said it might be a restaurant or bakery that features pies.
Whatever she chooses, Daniels said there are many possibilities for the talented Johnson.
“She’s got the skills to bake but she’s also got the personality to run something like that,” Daniels said. “…I could see her doing it down the road.”
What began as a fun, new course developed into a small business that helped local families and could become a factor in Johnson’s future career.