The Unlikely Pie Maker

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Photo by Jeremy Charles.

Paula Marshall never really intended to take the reins as the third generation leader of Tulsa’s iconic company, Bama.

“My favorite things to study in school were languages, and I took multiple languages,” says Marshall, one of the city’s most recognizable – and respected – business leaders today. “I wanted to go to school overseas. I thought it would be cool to work for the United Nations.”

Fate, though, had different plans for Marshall, an energetic and engaging businesswomen who, destiny aside, radiates charisma like her company’s pies emanate sweet unctuousness.

That’s a fragrance Marshall grew up very familiar with, despite her intentions to pursue other interests. As a youth, while attending Holland Hall, Marshall kept busy working at the commercial bakery and learning every aspect of the business.

“My dad and mom were intent on us learning about what we did,” recalls Marshall. “When I was in high school, my dad would wake me up early in the morning before school to show me the pie line.”

While the company was already a local legend, Marshall says, as a young person, she wasn’t necessarily aware of Bama’s reach. “You don’t realize how big of a deal [the family company] is until you come home from softball practice and McDonald’s [executives] are there, and your parents are traveling around the world,” she says.

Bama was already a big deal when Marshall was in high school. Her grandmother, Alabama “Bama” Marshall, started the business in her own kitchen making pies. Marshall’s father, Paul, and his wife moved to Tulsa from Texas in 1935, and in 1936, the company followed suit and was incorporated in Oklahoma. In addition to selling their pies via local route distribution all the way into the mid-1980s, Bama also has provided products commercially for numerous restaurants and restaurant chains over the many years of the company’s existence. It was always a family operation, with several generations involved, and it’s always been a family environment for employees, which has only expanded in magnitude under Marshall’s leadership.

Ironically, perhaps, Marshall says her father “never liked the fresh pies.”

“He liked the frozen ones,” she continues. “He wanted people to be able to eat in their cars, that was his obsession. That meant frozen, hand-held pies that were a good value.”

Fate once again intervened, and because of events in her own life, Marshall found herself in a tough personal situation.