Southern California staple, Polly’s Pies is embracing innovation while preserving tradition  

Offering fresh, high-quality food across Southern California, Polly’s Pies (Polly’s) is a restaurant and bakery chain at the heart of the communities in which it operates. With an incredible 55-year legacy, Polly’s has grown to evoke a sense of nostalgia when customers visit the restaurant or simply bite into one of its renowned apple, cherry, or boysenberry pies.  

Aside from operating 13 Polly’s full-service restaurants, the business also oversees ten KFC franchises, one of which is in Belmont Shore, the first free-standing KFC store in Southern California and where the company’s growth journey began. Eric Stenta, President and CEO of Polly’s Pies, joins us to narrate how the business has grown from humble beginnings to its current position.  Inside a Polly's Pies outlet

“The business was started in 1966 by brothers Eddie and Donald Sheldrake, who were approached by a friend about investing in a new fried chicken chain looking to open in Southern California,” Eric begins. “Eddie wasn’t a restaurant operator but took a risk to become the first franchisee in the region and opened his first store in Long Beach. The brothers gradually became personal friends of the colonel and grew to operate a collection of stores across California. 

“Realizing their creative talents and passion for people, Eddie and Donald wanted to open a store near their home in Fullerton. Their determination wasn’t compromised when KFC didn’t approve the location, and they instead created their own concept, Polly’s, with a vision to establish a neighborhood restaurant that acted as a pillar in the community. Today, we’ve grown to occupy 13 Polly’s sites, including the original restaurant in Fullerton, as well as ten KFC franchises.  

“From this 55-year journey, we have a string of core values, many of which Eddie learned from his days of playing basketball at UCLA. In 2023, we decided to condense these values into four key areas that embody Eddie and Donald’s original ethos. These values are around being trustworthy and acting with integrity, as we’ve become known for our high-quality, fresh, and tasty ingredients.  

“As Polly’s has been around for generations, our culture is based on nostalgia, and we want to continue serving the families we’ve known for decades while also growing our concept to younger audiences. We’re doing this in several ways like adding new innovations to our menu and renovating some of our tired restaurants to represent the quality and value associated with Polly’s. When it comes to menu items, we must carefully balance attracting new visitors and satisfying the needs of our loyal, longstanding customers. 

“We have our signature pies, for instance, including apple, cherry, Banberry®, chocolate cream, and lemon meringue. We also make an excellent bumbleberry jam, which is the key component of our delicious, proprietary blend, Bumbleberry pie. We’ve also added five different coffees to our daytime portfolio and extended our dinner offering to provide something for everyone regardless of dietary requirements, as well as an exceptional wine list and some high-quality beers to enhance our beverage options.” 

Restaurant refurbishment Bowl of pasta

Turning to store renovations, Eric elaborates: “When I started with Polly’s around five years ago, I knew that our people are fantastic, our food is high quality, but the restaurants themselves needed an update. This is natural for a company with a history; some of the sites were over 50 years old and had only had small upgrades during that time. 

“To attract new customers from younger generations, we recognized the need to update our restaurants. People want to dine in safe, comfortable, clean, and modern environments, so we started with small jobs like reupholstering and updating paintwork or art. We quickly noticed a tremendous lift in sales at updated sites, which encouraged us to take on larger renovation projects, starting with our original Long Beach restaurant.  

“We then renovated our sites at Laguna Hills and Hemet, both of which experienced a five-to-seven percent sales lift consequently, and we’ve most recently renovated our site in Huntington Beach, which is our largest site located in a high-traffic area surrounded by popular neighborhoods. We closed the site for around three months to add a patio and refurbish the interior with a clean yet retro look, including reintroducing the original Polly’s colors of greens and oranges.” 

Door-to-door delivery 

As our conversation draws to a close, Eric is keen to tell us about the new range of bake-at-home pies and his plans to expand this area of the business. “For years, we’ve been receiving requests to deliver our pies across the US, so last year, we decided to launch our shipping program,” he reveals. “The first challenge was finding the best shipping method, as our pies are all natural with no preservatives, so we started by delivering frozen, bake-at-home pies overnight. 

“We’re already getting really great feedback on this concept, with pies arriving in excellent condition and tasting fresh. As a result, we’re now expanding this service to our cookies and famous cinnamon rolls, as well as adding occasion baskets, which is a fantastic opportunity for us to expand our gifting range for events like Easter or Mother’s Day, for instance.”  

As Polly’s continues to grow, Eric is tasked with introducing innovative concepts that attract new visitors while remaining consistent for loyal customers. “We will continue to explore opportunities as we update the restaurants and delve further into the retail space,” Eric concludes. “Above all, we will maintain our emphasis on quality in everything we do as we continue to be a pillar in the community.”