Helping U.S. military veterans never felt — or tasted — so good.
Semper Pie, a new veteran-owned Boyertown bakery specializing in cheesecakes, launched in April with a mission far greater than merely satisfying sweet tooths across Berks County.
The store's slogan, #givingbackbytheslice, references Semper Pie's pledge to donate 22 cents of every dollar in proceeds toward veteran causes.
"The number 22 reflects the number of suicides by veterans per day post-9/11," said Kevin "Murph" Murphy, who started Semper Pie with his wife, Crystal.
That figure includes active-duty servicemembers as well as the National Guard and Reserve.
"It's an ongoing thing," he said.
Through Semper Pie, Crystal and Kevin — who himself served in the Marines and did two tours in Afghanistan — will support charities that address problems such as mental illness and homelessness among veterans.
"There's not a shortage of people who want to help out and make sure veterans are taken care of, but we need more of that," Kevin said. "More attention and more focus.
"We're only a bakery. We're a simple organization, a business, but we can make a difference."
The story behind Semper Pie
For Kevin, whose father was in the Army, serving in the military was a calling. He was already enlisted in the Marines before graduating from high school in Philadelphia, and almost immediately upon the completion of his training, he was being deployed to a war zone.
"It was always a lifelong ambition from an early age to be a Marine," said Kevin, whose two brothers are also active-duty infantry. "It was one of those driving, nagging things that never went away. I had to do it."
He served from 2008 until 2012 when he was discharged for medical reasons.
"I needed a little bit of hardware in my legs after it was all said and done," Kevin said. "Came back to the States, had to get a bunch of surgeries done. I have about 19 pieces of metal in my legs at the moment."
Opening a bakery was never part of the plan for Kevin and Crystal after he came home, but instead was something they wound up falling into during the pandemic.
"Neither of us had any baking history, and I hated baking," Crystal said. "Always had!"
Crystal, a Boyertown High School grad, was asked to bake a dessert for her mother-in-law's Thanksgiving dinner. What she wound up with, an apple pie cheesecake, "somehow came out amazing."
It was good enough to become the starting point for Semper Pie. While the couple was out of work as a result of COVID-19, Kevin convinced Crystal to sell cheesecakes online.
"It was something to do to get through the holidays, make a couple bucks here and there," Crystal said. "We were selling 30, 40 a week. They just kept coming, and we didn't want to stop."
It takes a village
Eventually, the state put an end to the online business, as cheesecake isn't covered by the Cottage Food Law governing which home-produced food items can be sold to the public.
The Boyertown community wasn't ready to see Semper Pie go, however. Crystal and Kevin were allowed to use the kitchen at the Colebrookdale Railroad while the restaurant was closed due to COVID. They then partnered with nearby Grind Restaurant for awhile, but wound up outgrowing that arrangement as well.
Finally, Crystal convinced the owner of the former Simply Sherry bakery on South Reading Avenue to give up his property.
"I pretty much harassed him on Facebook until he'd sell it to us," Crystal said.
Kevin confirmed she wasn't kidding.
"Everyone in Boyertown has been so helpful," he said. "We wouldn't be able to do it without them."
In addition to a rotating variety of cheesecake slices, including the famous apple pie, Semper Pie offers a full coffee menu, as well as freshly baked scones in the mornings. Sometimes, there are doughnuts and other sweet treats, too.
Crystal estimated between the bakery and events, Semper Pie is selling around 500 cheesecakes per week.
As for the name, Semper Pie — a play on the motto of the Marines Corps, "Semper Fi," a Latin phrase meaning always faithful — it was natural fit, both as a reminder of Kevin's service and Crystal's signature cheesecake.
"It sounded fun, was catchy and easy to remember, and you kind of get the idea of what the business is about," Kevin said.
The start of something big?
What the business is about, besides cheesecake of course, is helping the people who have sacrificed so much for their country.
"This is really the American dream come to life that we pulled off the ashes of this tragedy last year with the pandemic," Kevin said. "We figured out we could not only make a decent income for ourselves and work for ourselves, but also provide and give back to those that give so much to us.
"It became our core mission statement and really propelled us forward."
The plan is to donate to a different nonprofit each quarter, with the Fisher House Foundation — an organization that builds homes for veterans to stay in when a loved one is in the hospital — on deck.
In time, the hope is Semper Pie can do even larger gestures to assist individual veterans in the area.
"Our long-term focus, maybe after this year once we're established, we'd like to do something to benefit a local veteran in some way such as a house or a vehicle," Kevin said.
That might one day mean expanding, and while that is a ways down the road, they already know the perfect places for more Semper Pies to go.
"I would love to make us a franchise and have us at bases," Kevin said. "We feel pretty strongly about the idea, it's just gonna happen in time."
"We're trying to keep up with the demand for cheesecakes right now," Crystal added. "It's tough to keep stocked up with just the two of us baking directly, so time is definitely of the essence."