Hundreds of pies sit on a fold-out table outside of the Foggy Bottom Metro station every Friday. The man behind the table is known as the Pie Man of D.C. – but he’s even more well-known for his sales method.
“You need pie in your life lady, you need pie in your life,” he shouts as people shuffle in and out of the metro escalators. “Donald Trump got you stressed lady, you need pie in your life.”
Carvelas Mohannad, 56, stands outside the Metro station, surrounded by more passive souvenir, flower and hot dog vendors every Friday afternoon. The approach he’s used since the stand opened about three years ago has worked in his favor because even if people don’t stop for a taste, they still flash him a smile as they walk by, which he said is a reward in itself.
His small stand has about 100 small, personal-sized pies, each with about a six inch circumference, spread over the table in short piles. His stand, which only takes cash, specializes in plain navy bean pies ($4) and pies with various fruit fillings underneath navy bean custard ($5).
Mohannad is tall and can easily stretch out over the tables to hand people free samples, which he gives out regularly. His gloved hands are covered with custard and crumbs, which sometimes fall onto his Black Lives Matter hoodie.
His business, which employs three others in a bakery in Hydesville, Md., sends pies to shelves in about 86 local gas stations, restaurants and stores in Maryland and the District, he said.
“That’s nothing,” Mohannad said. “I tell the young brothers that work for me, the baby isn’t born until we get 500 stores.”
The navy bean filling is a sweet, spongy custard that melts like cream in your mouth. Its taste and texture is like that of a dense flan, and the crust is made of stone-ground wheat, which is flaky but sturdy enough to prevent the pie from falling apart as you eat it.
D’Juan Jeffery, 28, is his business partner who began handling the administrative side of the Pie Man of D.C. last year so Mohannad could focus on baking and selling the pies.
“From my first time meeting him I loved his energy,” Jeffery said. “I love what he brought to the table, his ideas, his drive.”
Mohannad said he learned the recipe for navy bean pie about three years ago from a friend, who’s since moved from D.C. to Chicago. Although the recipe was passed down to him, Mohannad said he’s put his own twist on the recipe since acquiring it.
“But with my creativity, my godly creativity,” he said. “I started adding stuff.”
Using his friend’s recipe for navy bean pie, Mohannad makes 22 flavors like blueberry, pumpkin, coconut and peach. Caramel apple is Mohannad’s personal favorite, though his most popular flavor is pecan, he said.
Despite the wide variety of flavors, each of Mohannad’s pies requires only about nine different ingredients, he said. All of his pies are “all natural,” and that’s what sets him apart from his dessert competitors, he added.
“That baby boy said ‘pie,’ ma’am,” he said, speaking to a woman walking by with her child. “He wants pie in his life, can he have a piece of pie?”
This isn’t the first time that Mohannad has operated his own business, nor is this the first time that he’s worked outside of the Foggy Bottom Metro station.
For 21 years, Mohannad ran a business selling used books at more than 30 locations around the District, including outside of the Metro. Mohannad said he stayed in this job until he had to take time off to care for his aging mother for nearly two years.
“I was called the D.C. Book Man,” he said.
After his mother passed away, Mohannad said he entered the market again about five years ago but found himself at a disadvantage.
“When I left selling books, the gadgets were coming out. Y’know, all the gadgets,” he said as he mimed using a Kindle.
Mohannad said he’s always been an entrepreneur and every time he learned a new trade, he started his own business with that serve. In addition to making pies and selling used books, Mohannad has had businesses fixing copy machines and painting nails, which he said has helped him stay independent.
“Independence is freedom from restrictions of a job,” he said. “You ain’t never gonna get rich working anyone else’s job.”
Mohannad said aside from being able to be independent, the best thing about his job is “the people.” He said he enjoys making people happy with the product he makes and takes pride in. Even if they don’t stop to buy a slice, it’s clear from watching the people pass by that he’s made an impression.
“Don’t be shy,” he shouts. “Taste the pie.”