"From a food truck standpoint, when you pull up in a Mercedes-Benz, it says you mean business," said Wilson, who owns Mr. Tod's Pie Factory, in the Somerset section of Franklin. "I don't want to go running with the herd, fighting for street corners in Hoboken. I want to be riding down Washington Avenue in front of Carlo's Bakery."
Though Wilson gained national exposure competing on ABC's Shark Tank and The Food Network's Sweet Genius, he faced significant hurdles in expanding his brick-and-mortar pie business throughout New Jersey, which inspired him to launch a mobile bakery as a growth strategy.
"At the time, I couldn't afford another store, and I thought from the start I could buy a Dodge or a Freightliner truck, but I went with a Mercedes to get the branding I wanted," Wilson said. "It's been working out well for doing corporate events and private events, and I know it will attract street customers in Englewood and Tenafly, where people appreciate that luxury type of stuff."
While operating his mobile business, Wilson said he found anchored retail opportunities by "doing some speculative investing and bootstrapping, which ain't for the faint of heart."
"I was looking at bakeries in Englewood, but the rents were too prohibitive for me. But then I found an owner who was looking to make a fire sale after he closed his shop, and I ended up buying a $140,000 business for $40,000, with $10,000 down," Wilson said. "It's a little out of pocket, but it still allows us to continue to grow revenue."
Wilson said he used the same strategy to buy a former bakery in Flemington — which he plans to reopen as a Mr. Tod's Pie Factory next year — since he "gained control of the real estate and the equipment for a $12,500 deposit and some monthly cash flow, after the owner originally asked for $400,000 down."
While Wilson said he will continue to work to secure prime real estate for "pennies on the dollar," he will keep his business targeted at an upscale demographic, and he noted "I'm not going to give you the cheapest pie you can find, but I'm giving you what you paid for, and that's good service."
To further expand his pie company, Wilson said he's considering "sweet spots" like Montclair that mirror the demographics of Englewood, though "after another stop or two in New Jersey, it's definitely New York City for me."
But before he heads to the Big Apple, Wilson is making a local delivery of a buttermilk coconut pie to Gov. Chris Christie on Thanksgiving, which is an annual tradition for his bakery.
"If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, and eventually, I want my name to be mentioned with the great bakers," Wilson said. "But New Jersey is all I know, and first I want to make New Jersey proud."