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    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

    Photo by Mickie Winters

    On a recent Thursday outside Kern’s Kitchen, off Plantside Drive in Jeffersontown, the air smells of chocolaty, buttery, sugary Derby Pies, which bake 80 at a time in the factory’s ovens. Inside, crusts in pie pans with chocolate chips at the bottom sit on racks, awaiting the “goop,” as president Alan Rupp calls the mixture of pie ingredients.

    A tiny sign hangs from a giant curtain and reads: “Nobody gets to see the wizard. Not nobody, not no how!” Right now the curtain is open as JB Keahey, the second person outside the Kern family to know the secret Derby Pie recipe in the business’s 61 years, cracks eggs. Keahey swiftly hits the shells on the rim of a metal bowl, cracking five in the time it takes an average cook to crack one. Keahey, 34, has been the production manager for the past six years. He had been working at a country club when he wanted a change, so he went through Sullivan University’s alumni services to find a posting about an opening at Kern’s. Photographer Mickie Winters and I are allowed to see the eggs, but when it’s time for Keahey to start mixing ingredients, the curtain closes. “Watch them, JB. We’re not sure if they’re magazine people or spies,” Rupp says. Minutes later, a hose coming through a hole in the curtain starts pumping the goop, making a rhythmic whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound. Rupp’s son, Matt, positions the pie pans under the hose as it ejects portions of the goop. Keahey comes out from behind the curtain. “I am able to make it look very simple because it doesn’t take much time,” he says. “There’s definitely a choreographed nature to it. If the steps are out of order, it’s definitely not as smooth.”

    Derby Pie, a name Kern’s Kitchen trademarked 47 years ago and infamously protects through lawsuits, started in 1954 at Rupp’s grandparents’ restaurant in Prospect called the Melrose Inn. Kern’s makes the crust, the filling — including inspecting each walnut — and bakes and packages the pies. Today, the crew of eight or so makes about 100,000 to 120,000 pies a year and sells them through restaurants, retail outlets and by mail order across the country. Derby and the holidays are understandably the company’s busiest times of the year. Keahey will generally get to work at 4:30 or 5 a.m. five days a week. “Fridays are my day to sleep in. I don’t have to be here until 6:30 or 7,” he says. He’ll make pies until 3 p.m. or “until it’s done.” In the few months before Derby, he’ll get to work at 2:30 or 3 a.m., six days a week. While each of the employees had to sign a confidentiality agreement to work here, Keahey’s was more extensive. I ask him what the consequences would be if he were to let the recipe slip.

    Rupp laughs and Keahey says, “It’s not gonna slip.”

    “Pretty much electrocution,” Rupp says, jokingly.

    “Secret’s safe with me,” Keahey says.

    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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