Hey Brooklyn! Get started with $20 off your first subscription of $40 or more.

Reimagining Frozen Foods with Aunt Ethel’s Pot Pies

Reimagining Frozen Foods with Aunt Ethel’s Pot Pies

First things, first: the eponymous cook behind Aunt Ethel’s Pot Pies is only sort of a real person. “She’s an amalgam of a real person,” laughs Sasha Millstein, the company’s founder. 

In real life, Millstein does have an aunt, named Alicia, who made a career cooking catering orders at a specialty store in New York City’s Upper East Side. After the shop closed, customers still craved the chicken salad, meatloaf, and beef bourguignon—so she kept making it for them, forming an accidental retail business. 

Alicia always hated her middle name, Ethel, but the whole family agreed that Aunt Ethel’s was the perfect name for Millstein’s company, which sells frozen versions of her aunt’s beloved pot pies. “We wanted it to outlive us, not to be associated with a specific person,” Millstein explains. 

“These are her recipes that she’s been making for 30 years and selling to private clients. Her favorite line to say to me was, ‘I can afford to die, but I can’t afford to get hurt.’ She had a strong brand, but she had little to show for herself financially. I said to her, let’s try to commercialize your success and scale it.”

Now, that’s exactly what she’s doing—with help from the frozen food aisle. Read on to learn how Aunt Ethel’s is bringing a fresh perspective to frozen foods. 

Aunt Ethel’s is bringing a fresh perspective to frozen foods. 

1. Identify an underserved segment. 

A longtime follower and investor in Shopify, Millstein knew she wanted to enter the ecommerce space and start selling products online. Shipping frozen foods posed a logistical challenge, but that didn’t scare her away—she knew the opportunities would outweigh the costs.

“We’ve seen a paradigm shift for frozen food,” says Millstein. “When our parents grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it became institutionalized. Then we hit a point in the health system where we started pedaling backward—it was more accessible but less nutritious.”

But it’s a misconception that frozen foods have to be inferior, Millstein insists. Millstein’s aunt Alicia created gourmet food and froze it for clients, who would pay up to $30 a quart for her delicacies. Frozen food had the potential to be gourmet, healthy, and desirable. 

“The frozen food section has a lot of room for growth,” Millstein says. “I think the idea of creating fine frozen food is going to take hold, and we’re going to turn to it as a nutritious, higher-end source of food.” 

2. Adapt recipes for new routes.

After the idea of Aunt Ethel’s was born, Millstein and her aunt held a two-day pop-up in New York City and sold out every single pot pie they had. They noticed that some people who bought one on the spot would take as many as five or seven to go. Millstein realized: “This is not a brick and mortar, it’s retail.” 

They tried every frozen pot pie on the market and deemed them all “garbage,” due to two common pain points. First, the bottom brust inevitably got soggy from the filling on top, so they removed it entirely, eliminating significant calories. Secondly, the pies took about an hour to reheat—far too long for convenience food. In a lightbulb moment, they separated the crust from the filling so that each component could be heated separately (think yogurt packaging, with the granola on top). That’s the same way Millstein’s aunt used to prepare them in her restaurant. 

“That’s when I realized we had something,” Millstein remembers. Because they didn’t have a model for the finished product, the whole R&D operation took upwards of six months. Even a consultant couldn’t find the right packaging for them. What did work, appropriately, was scaling the same process “Aunt Ethel” had been using for decades. 

Aunt Ethel's Pot Pies Frozen was born with the notion that frozen food had the potential to be gourmet, healthy, and desirable. 

3. Find markets made for retention. 

For CPG businesses, “omnichannel presence” is the buzzphrase of the moment, as they strive to master retail, online, wholesale, and all the rest at once. But Millstein knew she needed to take a step back and identify her target markets before tackling every sales avenue. 

Frozen foods can be cost-prohibitive to sell online in one-off purchases. That’s where subscriptions come in—and for Aunt Ethel’s, the markets for subscriptions are many. It’s the parents buying for their college students who need a break from cafeteria food or healthy snacks for the dorm room. It’s the health-conscious folks trying to lose weight with low-calorie options within arm’s reach. (Aunt Ethel’s pot pies have half the calories of competitors.) It’s the techies working from home, grabbing lunch between meetings. 

When Millstein first mentioned the idea of subscriptions to her aunt, she was skeptical, but their 23-year-old marketing hire knew better. “She was like, ‘Are you crazy? Everybody loves subscriptions!’” Millstein says. “Subscriptions have come back in a much bigger way during the pandemic.”

First things, first: the eponymous cook behind Aunt Ethel’s Pot Pies is only sort of a real person. “She’s an amalgam of a real person,” laughs Sasha Millstein, the company’s founder. 

In real life, Millstein does have an aunt, named Alicia, who made a career cooking catering orders at a specialty store in New York City’s Upper East Side. After the shop closed, customers still craved the chicken salad, meatloaf, and beef bourguignon—so she kept making it for them, forming an accidental retail business. 

Alicia always hated her middle name, Ethel, but the whole family agreed that Aunt Ethel’s was the perfect name for Millstein’s company, which sells frozen versions of her aunt’s beloved pot pies. “We wanted it to outlive us, not to be associated with a specific person,” Millstein explains. 

“These are her recipes that she’s been making for 30 years and selling to private clients. Her favorite line to say to me was, ‘I can afford to die, but I can’t afford to get hurt.’ She had a strong brand, but she had little to show for herself financially. I said to her, let’s try to commercialize your success and scale it.”

Now, that’s exactly what she’s doing—with help from the frozen food aisle. Read on to learn how Aunt Ethel’s is bringing a fresh perspective to frozen foods. 

Aunt Ethel’s is bringing a fresh perspective to frozen foods. 

1. Identify an underserved segment. 

A longtime follower and investor in Shopify, Millstein knew she wanted to enter the ecommerce space and start selling products online. Shipping frozen foods posed a logistical challenge, but that didn’t scare her away—she knew the opportunities would outweigh the costs.

“We’ve seen a paradigm shift for frozen food,” says Millstein. “When our parents grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it became institutionalized. Then we hit a point in the health system where we started pedaling backward—it was more accessible but less nutritious.”

But it’s a misconception that frozen foods have to be inferior, Millstein insists. Millstein’s aunt Alicia created gourmet food and froze it for clients, who would pay up to $30 a quart for her delicacies. Frozen food had the potential to be gourmet, healthy, and desirable. 

“The frozen food section has a lot of room for growth,” Millstein says. “I think the idea of creating fine frozen food is going to take hold, and we’re going to turn to it as a nutritious, higher-end source of food.” 

2. Adapt recipes for new routes.

After the idea of Aunt Ethel’s was born, Millstein and her aunt held a two-day pop-up in New York City and sold out every single pot pie they had. They noticed that some people who bought one on the spot would take as many as five or seven to go. Millstein realized: “This is not a brick and mortar, it’s retail.” 

They tried every frozen pot pie on the market and deemed them all “garbage,” due to two common pain points. First, the bottom brust inevitably got soggy from the filling on top, so they removed it entirely, eliminating significant calories. Secondly, the pies took about an hour to reheat—far too long for convenience food. In a lightbulb moment, they separated the crust from the filling so that each component could be heated separately (think yogurt packaging, with the granola on top). That’s the same way Millstein’s aunt used to prepare them in her restaurant. 

“That’s when I realized we had something,” Millstein remembers. Because they didn’t have a model for the finished product, the whole R&D operation took upwards of six months. Even a consultant couldn’t find the right packaging for them. What did work, appropriately, was scaling the same process “Aunt Ethel” had been using for decades. 

Aunt Ethel's Pot Pies Frozen was born with the notion that frozen food had the potential to be gourmet, healthy, and desirable. 

3. Find markets made for retention. 

For CPG businesses, “omnichannel presence” is the buzzphrase of the moment, as they strive to master retail, online, wholesale, and all the rest at once. But Millstein knew she needed to take a step back and identify her target markets before tackling every sales avenue. 

Frozen foods can be cost-prohibitive to sell online in one-off purchases. That’s where subscriptions come in—and for Aunt Ethel’s, the markets for subscriptions are many. It’s the parents buying for their college students who need a break from cafeteria food or healthy snacks for the dorm room. It’s the health-conscious folks trying to lose weight with low-calorie options within arm’s reach. (Aunt Ethel’s pot pies have half the calories of competitors.) It’s the techies working from home, grabbing lunch between meetings. 

When Millstein first mentioned the idea of subscriptions to her aunt, she was skeptical, but their 23-year-old marketing hire knew better. “She was like, ‘Are you crazy? Everybody loves subscriptions!’” Millstein says. “Subscriptions have come back in a much bigger way during the pandemic.”

Doron Segal
Doron Segal

Hey I'm Doron, the co-founder & CTO of Per Diem — a mobile app platform for restaurants. I'm also a dad and a husband. I love to travel and meet new people.I love creating things, and see people using the stuff I built.Prior to Per Diem I worked at Saildrone, OpenTable, Apple, Beats Music, Siemens.

Tomer Molovinsky
Tomer Molovinsky

A second time founder with a passion for building products at the intersection of hospitality and technology. I've had the pleasure of launching reservation systems, mobile payment solutions, and loyalty programs at OpenTable and Resy, and witnessed how operators were losing a direct connection with their customers online. We built Per Diem to strengthen the relationships that businesses have with those customers, and to ensure that local businesses can thrive in today's economy.

Ashley Rodriguez
Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley is a freelance writer and podcast producer based in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosts a podcast called Boss Barista and writes an accompanying newsletter with full transcripts of each episode and articles about coffee and restaurant work. You can check out her work here (ashleyrodriguez.work/).

Explore featured restaurants and cafes

Coffee Dose Cafe's Winning Website Strategies for App Promotion
Coffee Dose Cafe's Winning Website Strategies for App Promotion
Read Case study
How Bakeries Like Chip City Use Referral Programs to Increase Customer Counts
How Bakeries Like Chip City Use Referral Programs to Increase Customer Counts
Read Case study
Skip the Line: How Groovy Goose Coffee Streamlined Orders With a Mobile App
Skip the Line: How Groovy Goose Coffee Streamlined Orders With a Mobile App
Read Case study
How Boba Bliss Drove Sales Through Mobile App Coupons
How Boba Bliss Drove Sales Through Mobile App Coupons
Read Case study
What Makes Iron Paffles & Coffee Stand Out in Charlottesville
What Makes Iron Paffles & Coffee Stand Out in Charlottesville
Read Case study
How Kona Coffee Roasters Transformed NYC’s Commuter Coffee Culture with Per Diem
How Kona Coffee Roasters Transformed NYC’s Commuter Coffee Culture with Per Diem
Read Case study
How Kimchi Box Became Michigan's Favorite Restaurant With Mobile Ordering
How Kimchi Box Became Michigan's Favorite Restaurant With Mobile Ordering
Read Case study
How Arkansas' the Busy Bean Tops Charts on Google Play With a Custom Mobile App
How Arkansas' the Busy Bean Tops Charts on Google Play With a Custom Mobile App
Read Case study
How Crema Coffee & Soda is Satisfying Customers in Utah With a Soda Pop App
How Crema Coffee & Soda is Satisfying Customers in Utah With a Soda Pop App
Read Case study
How Lucky Coffee Boosts Mobile App Adoption Through Email Campaigns
How Lucky Coffee Boosts Mobile App Adoption Through Email Campaigns
Read Case study
How Per Diem Helps Oaks Coffee House Give Back to The Chattanooga Community
How Per Diem Helps Oaks Coffee House Give Back to The Chattanooga Community
Read Case study
Run Your Cafe Like a Bank: How Ethereal Cafe Created a Starbucks-Style Mobile App
Run Your Cafe Like a Bank: How Ethereal Cafe Created a Starbucks-Style Mobile App
Read Case study
From One-Timers To Regulars: How Empire Tea and Coffee Transformed Customer Loyalty with Per Diem
From One-Timers To Regulars: How Empire Tea and Coffee Transformed Customer Loyalty with Per Diem
Read Case study
How Cosmic Coffeehouse Teamed Up with Per Diem and Square for an Out-of-This-World Grand Opening
How Cosmic Coffeehouse Teamed Up with Per Diem and Square for an Out-of-This-World Grand Opening
Read Case study
How Kino's Coffee and Others Have Boosted Their Sales with Push Notifications
How Kino's Coffee and Others Have Boosted Their Sales with Push Notifications
Read Case study
Coupon Codes That Work: Chip City's Free Cookie Strategy for Customer Acquisition
Coupon Codes That Work: Chip City's Free Cookie Strategy for Customer Acquisition
Read Case study
From Local Comfort Food to High Tech: How Joanie’s Modernized Operations
From Local Comfort Food to High Tech: How Joanie’s Modernized Operations
Read Case study
Rebranding a Bubble Tea Brand: How Niko Niko Boba Expanded Beyond Chatime
Rebranding a Bubble Tea Brand: How Niko Niko Boba Expanded Beyond Chatime
Read Case study
How Plomo Quesadillas Won Over Gen-Z With Square Loyalty
How Plomo Quesadillas Won Over Gen-Z With Square Loyalty
Read Case study
The Perfect Blend: How Coffee Dose Boosted Brand Loyalty with Per Diem
The Perfect Blend: How Coffee Dose Boosted Brand Loyalty with Per Diem
Read Case study
Ambee Coffee's Rebrand and Per Diem: A Match Made for Expansion
Ambee Coffee's Rebrand and Per Diem: A Match Made for Expansion
Read Case study
Why Kino's Coffee Switched Mobile Apps: A Case Study in Improving the Customer Experience
Why Kino's Coffee Switched Mobile Apps: A Case Study in Improving the Customer Experience
Read Case study
How DoorDash Drive and Per Diem Fueled Masala Wok and Tikka Shack's Delivery Dreams
How DoorDash Drive and Per Diem Fueled Masala Wok and Tikka Shack's Delivery Dreams
Read Case study
Per Diem's Square Integration: How Island Flavor Streamlined Operations
Per Diem's Square Integration: How Island Flavor Streamlined Operations
Read Case study
Hidden Grounds Case Study: When Apps Meet Customer Loyalty, Magic Happens
Hidden Grounds Case Study: When Apps Meet Customer Loyalty, Magic Happens
Read Case study
Scan for a Free Cookie: How Chip City's QR Codes Drove App Adoption
Scan for a Free Cookie: How Chip City's QR Codes Drove App Adoption
Read Case study
Close Line
Try Per Diem
Sign up for our monthly newsletter for all the latest in local restaurant trends, industry insights, and Per Diem product updates.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Close Line

Unlock new insights and trends by
downloading Ultimate Guide for Launching a Mobile Ordering App.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Close Line