March 10 2010 12:00 AM

Mary’s Homestyle Catering owner finds inspiration all around her



Ensconced in the corner of a flea market, Mary’s Homestyle Catering quietly churns out some of the best pastries in town. But owner Mary Mullins offers much more than her signature wedding pies.

Before Mullins opens her kitchen on any given morning at the Mega Mall on US-27, north of Lansing, she never quite knows what her little café will offer. She rolls up her sleeves, checks out what ingredients she has onhand, and lists her decisions on a whiteboard near a dozen seats around a few small tables. The seating is flanked by shelves of vintage cookbooks and literature, and aisles upon aisles of collectibles and antiques, from anachronistic figurines of house servants and Christmas decorations of a bygone era to videos of Red Skelton and vinyl records of Frank Sinatra.

Like the merchandise surrounding her kitchen, Mullins is an eclecticist, both in method and execution, and that’s exactly the way she likes it.

“One thing I always wanted to do was open my own place,” Mullins says, “where I can call all the shots.”

Meals at the café are served in large glass pie dishes; the benefits of that, Mullins boasts with a smile, are a resistance to chipping and tendency to catch wayward crumbs, resulting in cleaner tables.

She gets her recipe ideas, both for her café and the larger catering business, from a combination of heritage and pop culture.

“The pie crust I use is the pie crust my mother taught me when I was 8,” she says.

The inspiration for her twisted Philly cheese steak ($6.50 combo), though, has contemporary origins: It came from a Food Channel segment. Her sandwich combines bean sprouts, spinach and mushrooms with deliciously greasy steak and cheese for a double-fisted tummy-buster. The twisted Philly is served with a quarter-wedge of orange, a thin slice of pickle, a side — chips, egg salad or perhaps baked beans, depending on Mullins’ mood, stock or customer demand — and a beverage.

“People have gone bonkers for this sandwich,” she says. Other lunch combos might include a taco or chicken wrap, a sloppy Joe, a ham and cheese sandwich or a classic hamburger. Daily soups obey the whims of Mullins’ proclivities as well.

Ever-energetic, Mullins becomes particularly electric when talking pie. Her business began with the idea of catering events with her sweet concoctions, and weddings play a major role in her success.

A cake decorator for over two decades, Mullins took a hint from the West Coast (where wedding pies are big, apparently) and began to offer a multitude of pie combinations for the happy couple, complete with one fully decorated, bride-and-groomstatuetted tier of traditional cake for shoving in each other’s faces or saving for the first anniversary, depending on the level of matrimonial bliss.

In either case, the pies are delicious. The banana cream ($12.25) has a mildly sweet, silky smooth filling populated with soft banana chunks and topped with a cloud
of puffy whipped cream. The pecan pie ($13.50) is better-suited for the
sweetof-tooth (it’ll make your gums shrink), but a generous admixture
of nuts in the madefrom-scratch dessert brings it back down to earth —
along with a pot of coffee.

Aside from its tasty wares, part of the appeal
of Mary’s is a genuine sense of old-fashioned hospitality. Mullins says
her menus, both catering and café, are simply starting points, and
she’s willing to accommodate most reasonable requests. She’s always up
for a bit of conversation as well, alternately sharing the anecdotes
that come from raising four children with clarifying questions — You
want mustard on that? Ketchup? Onion? — while she dresses your burger.
She proudly displays page-long thank you notes on her door.

also believes community involvement is important, which is perfect for
the collective-like flea market venue in which her business is housed.
It goes beyond the walls of the Mega Mall, though: Mullins organizes
two yearly food drives, in the summer and around Christmas. She
partners with the Rescue Mission and other charitable organizations in
the winter and helps sponsor a car show in the summer, complete with a
cookout using her “bad boy grill” capable of making 168 hot dogs sweat simultaneously. Meanwhile, she collects food and donations.

May, Mary’s will be teaming up with the Michigan State University
women’s volleyball team and local media outlets to raise money for
victims of domestic violence. Mullins will donate the cookies, complete
with purple-frosted ribbons, for a fundraising dinner plate.

“If you want to stay successful in whatever you are doing,” Mullins says, “you have to give back.”

Mary’s Homestyle Catering

15487 US-27, Lansing (517) 908-0443 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays (except for select federal holidays)