The Miami Herald: How a firefighter’s dying wish helped start one of Miami’s best pie shops

May 21, 2016


BY CARLOS FRÍAS  cfrias@miamiherald.com

Firefighter Patrick Murdock’s death was his final selfless act.


For years, he had told his wife Kim about a fellow firefighter at the station, Derek Kaplan, who baked delicious pies. Pies so good, he wished he could help Kaplan open his own store.


“Pat always said if he had the money, he would have given it to Derek,” Kim Murdock said.



Pat Murdock was the kind of man who spent his life helping others. He coached youth football before he had kids. He volunteered to groom dogs at pet shelters. He became a firefighter at 30 because he felt it was his calling.

 
So when he died unexpectedly at age 45, leaving the family with an insurance payout but a hole in their lives, Kim Murdock knew exactly what Pat would want her to do.

Business knack

Kim Murdock was born to run a business.


At 21, after working in restaurants and bakeries through her years at Immaculata-La Salle High School, she asked her parents to take a $25,000 equity line against their Shenandoah house to help her buy Hattie’s Place, a former Coconut Grove gay hangout that she and her brother turned into a college bar, Tavern in the Grove.


It was there, while handing out fliers with drink specials, that she handed one to a pizza delivery kid named Pat Murdock. Just out of high school, Patrick had left New York to live with his grandparents and try to find his calling in life. They talked for a long time, and when she walked away, he turned to his friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.”


Five years later, he did just that. They married and Patrick opened the first of several businesses, Dog Charm pet groomers, on U.S. 1. Kim eventually sold the bar, and they ran the pet groomer together. Patrick often took his tools to local pet shelters and groomed animals for free. Meanwhile, he started coaching youth football and volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club in their neighborhood.


“Pat was always searching,” Kim remembered. “He had this need to serve.”


At 30, Patrick decided he wanted to be a firefighter — late in life to start a young man’s job. The couple had a 1-year-old son, Pat Jr., but she didn’t fight her husband on this one. He went to firefighters college in Central Florida for three months, driving home on the weekends to help at the grooming store. He took additional courses to become a paramedic firefighter so he could work more directly with people in need.


Two years in, he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart caused by a virus, which the family is convinced he contracted while working with emergency patients. Doctors told him his heart was working at 20 percent of its potential. Medication limited his heart rate to prevent a heart attack. He was reassigned to a desk job and robbed of the service he’d wanted for his life.


“He knew his life expectancy wouldn’t be that long,” Kim said.


It was two years later that he met Derek Kaplan, a brash and hungry trainee fresh out of fire college, at Station 1 in downtown Miami.


Experience had taught Kaplan, a Florida native with New York roots, that there was nothing that couldn’t be accomplished through hard work and perseverance — including leading an active life despite being diagnosed diabetic at 13 after losing 70 pounds in six months.


“It’s a mental thing. You decide you want to kick its ass every day,” Kaplan said.


His condition never stopped him from playing three sports at Palmetto High and going on to two years of football at Grambling State. You’d never guess he’s the runt in his family at 6-foot-2, 275 pounds. (His father is 6-4, his brother 6-6. “But I’m the widest one,” he jokes.)


And it didn’t stop him from eating. He learned to cook for himself and started baking key lime pies in high school to make a little money on the side (OK, he also loved key lime pie.) And soon after joining the fire department, he started baking to supplement his income.



As a firefighter, he worked 24-hour shifts with two days off in between. He used that down time to bake 25 to 30 pies a week, first out of his father’s Brickell condo and later in a host of commissary kitchens around Miami. When his 7:30 a.m. shift ended, he went home to shower and change and headed to the kitchen to bake. Other days, he would bake until 2 a.m. and be at the station at 7:30 a.m. to start a shift.


“Guys my age were going out partying, and I was home baking,” Kaplan said.


Pat Murdock watched the young bull in awe and devoured the pies he brought into the firehouse for Sunday dinners with the other firefighters and their families. Pat started visiting Derek at the commissary kitchen and talking about ideas to launch Derek’s pies beyond farmer’s markets and the firehouse.



“He had great ideas, and I welcomed them,” Kaplan said. “We had a similar work ethic.”



Meanwhile, after firefighters’ pay was cut, Kim went to work an office job at Carnival Cruise Line, and together they started an Italian food truck, Mangia Mia, selling Kim’s grandmother’s meatball recipe. Patrick Jr., drove the truck on days his father had to work his firefighter shift.


“It was craziness, but it was a family affair and it made us very close,” Kim said. “The kids have fond memories of that.”


Derek watched Patrick build out the truck himself to learn how to outfit his own food truck, which would foster a cult following for two years. One Thanksgiving, Pat suggested buying pies from Derek to lighten Kim’s cooking load.


“I was jealous at first. Yeah, I was a little insulted,” Kim joked. “I was like, ‘My chocolate pecan pie is pretty great.’ ”



Then she tasted Kaplan’s. That Christmas, she bought 10 pies for her co-workers.


Kaplan started looking for places to build his pie shop, though he still didn’t have an investor. He found 600 square feet wedged between a club, the Electric Pickle, and a barbershop in Wynwood. In summer 2013, Pat went to see it with him and told Kim that night if he had one wish, it would be to go into business with Kaplan.


TRAGEDY STRIKES


Kim remembered that conversation as she stood in her empty kitchen in late October 2013.


It was the first time she could see past the morning of Oct. 7.


That Monday, she and Pat had crossed paths near the end of their Palmetto Bay block and chatted through their car windows as he came home from a 7:30 a.m. shift. He told her what a good day he had had. The guys had a barbecue at the station Sunday. He had beaten a buddy at fantasy football. And he was feeling energetic.


It was the last time Kim would see her husband of 20 years alive.



That afternoon, her teenage children found Patrick Murdock collapsed near the bedroom. Patrick Jr., a high school senior at the time, tried to administer CPR, but it was too late.


Kim spent the next month in a haze going to work, trying not to cry when her children were around and dodging the pitying stares from co-workers.


“Grieving is trying to figure out what your new life is,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was fulfilling what I should be doing.”


She remembered Pat often told her that in a time of need, the other firefighters would look out for her like family. She thought back on that as she stood alone in her kitchen alone and thought, “I need to bake.”


“Which is weird,” she said, “because I had never baked before. But I just felt like I needed to bake.”


That day, she called Kaplan to meet for brunch at Lulu’s in Coconut Grove. She told him what Pat had said about giving him the money to start his business. She had a payout from Pat’s pension and several life insurance policies he had taken out when he decided he wanted to become a firefighter. If she built out the space, Kaplan told her, they could go in as partners.


“It gave me a direction, something to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t be crying every day,” she said.


She started baking at Kaplan’s commissary kitchen as Thanksgiving rolled around. Together, they made and sold more than 500 pies in three days, with nothing more than word-of-mouth and Derek’s face-to-face contacts. By Friday, they were spent but inspired. This partnership was going to work.


“This was a healing process for me, and it turned out to be so much more,” Kim said. “I believed in Derek. I knew the type of worker he was, the type of person he is. It was a leap of faith for him, too.”

FOND MEMORIES


On a recent Thursday, they sat at Wynwood’s Pride & Joy barbecue restaurant, recalling Pat, and Kaplan ordered for Murdock (a brisket salad) before she joined him.


“With everything I went through with Pat, you realize you don’t have that much time on earth,” Kim said. “You want to do something you can connect with and do good with.”


“Actually, we did a lot of LSD and thought, ‘Let’s bake pies!’ ” Kaplan says, breaking the tension, and soon they are laughing through tear-reddened eyes.“


See? That’s the kind of humor I appreciate, and it reminds me of Pat,” Kim said.


Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop2818 N. Miami Ave., opened in July 2014. Their first Thanksgiving, they made more than 1,000 pies. Last year it was 2,000. This year, they expect to double that again. In an average month, they make more than 4,000 pies for more than 40 accounts throughout South Florida.


“The teamwork between Kim and Derek on the shop has been amazing,” said retired firefighter Carl Stridfelt, a friend to both families. “I’m sure Pat is looking down and seeing their success.”


And together, they are growing. This summer, they are moving into a new production kitchen in Little Haiti and turning the Wynwood store into more of a restaurant and storefront. Inside their new kitchen, at 105 NE 62nd St., they will open a donut shop, Sticky’s Donuts & Coffee, which Kaplan hopes to franchise eventually.


Kaplan, 32, pushes ahead with myriad ideas for growing their business, including making everything from quiches to chicken pot pies. Murdock, 50, wiser for her business background, guides his creativity — and even reins him in when needed.


“You have to be a visionary if you want to grow your business,” he said. “I want to compete with Dunkin Donuts.”“See what I mean?” Kim said.


GIVING THANKS


Every day, the business partners silently salute the man who enabled their success. Kim keeps a picture of Pat as her iPhone lock screen and wears his wedding band on her necklace and a red “string of faith” bow tattoo around her left pinky.


“Pat was my everything,” she said. “We had a great love and life together. ... And I still feel his presence with me always. I know he is guiding me and the kids.”


“I’d want Pat to know one of his brothers is looking after his family,” Kaplan said. “They are my responsibility.”


His spirit suffuses the bake shop. By the entrance is a painting, a gift from local artist Rey Jaffet, of a firefighter in silhouette, wearing badge number 1063 on his helmet — Pat’s badge number. He holds his arm out, as if in a blessing to all who enter.


“Pat’s here with us,” Kim said. “He’s here with us in spirit.”

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