At his toughest points in pursuit of his teenage dream -- when sleeping in his car, eating off $1 menu at fast food chains -- Toby Simmons would bake himself a pie.
A mouth-watering sweet potato pie, his signature recipe, to remind him what his struggle is worth.
Simmons, now 41, has built a reputation as the Charleston Pie Man and says he's ready to take his modest baking operation to a higher level. Leaders at the state Department of Commerce already have issued an official "congratulations," and Georgetown County officials are poised to help Simmons organize a job fair Saturday at his Pawleys Island bakery.
With a raw enthusiasm that's been beaten out of many small business owners throughout the recession, Simmons talks about other entrepreneurs who worked decades to get their break. He's convinced he's next, citing the inspirational motto that "a man on a mission cannot be stopped."
"Whatever and however, I want these pies all over the country," he said. "I have my work cut out for me, but I have something everyone likes."
Simmons' dessert-inspired empire looks like this:
Grocery stories and gas stations across the country would hold cooled cases of his Charleston Pie Man goodies.
A fleet of 10 sales employees would travel across country promoting the pies to stores, distributors and restaurants.
His Georgetown prep kitchen, expanded to more than the triple its current 15,000-square foot size after a $500,000 makeover, would supply a network of namesake bakeries across the state.
The company's retail arm would start with a location in North Charleston near Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester roads. As each shop opens, the business would work up to a companywide goal of baking 80,000 pies a month.
"I could have taken my product up North, but it would be made with no love at all," he said. "Yes, they can push out 10,000 pies a day, but with manpower I can, too."
Simmons' existing pie-making business is far more humble. Between the Georgetown kitchen and the bakery with a small retail front, he estimates he turns out 3,200 pies a month.
Most pies, priced between $5 and $15 for the 23 varieties, are ordered specially and shipped out.
Despite a nationwide spending slump, Simmons said his business has ripened to a point where it's time for the next step. He said he's lining up a group of investors to provide money for the expansion.
"Part of me is tired, physically and emotionally tired, and I came to this conclusion where if I wanted to see the fruit of my labor ... I have to start trusting other people to do what I do," he said.
Simmons' eventual plan to hire as many as 300 workers will advance with a job fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at his Pawleys Island bakery, 9243 Ocean Highway. He plans to use a federal tax credit that could pay up to 75 percent of a worker's training hours for six to 10 weeks.
As Simmons sees it, it's like a war. He talks about conquering, and moving forward a day at a time.