Pie Lab, Greensboro
The Maker: Seaborn Whatley
A man from Papua New Guinea made the trip to Greensboro a couple of years ago, and so have others from almost every country in the world. What could put the sleepy Black Belt town of less than 2,500 people on any globetrotter’s itinerary?
The answer is pie or, more specifically, Pie Lab.
People from around the globe make the Greensboro pilgrimage to sample the chocolate chess, German chocolate, bourbon pecan, Oreo, key lime and other flavors that may send you home for a nap or straight to heaven.
“I grew up 10 miles from the restaurant, and my family has been in Greensboro since 1816. I’m pretty sure they are the oldest family in town,” Whatley said.
Main Street in Greensboro resembles others in towns throughout the South. A few stores shuttered up, a few thriving and a few in between. There is no question where Pie Lab falls on that list. The place is huge and airy with dozens of pies in cooled cases greeting customers. Large wooden tables and hardwood floors remind of a bygone time.
“We do pretty much everything here, all the fruit pies and others. If someone calls and wants us to duplicate their grandmother’s pie, we’ll try to bring it back to life. Making pies can be a bit monotonous, especially rolling the crust. It’s the same thing over and over and over again, but it’s a job we love,” Whatley said.
Pie Lab began as a movement to innovate initiatives focused on artisanal food and restaurant operations, all to foster social change. While the social change is happening at a predictable rate, the pies are flying off the shelves. Southern Living magazine named Pie Lab’s apple pie as the best in the South, and the James Beard Foundation named Pie Lab one of three 2010 finalists for restaurant design.
The secret to success is explained on their Facebook page:
“Pie Lab is a pie shop meant to gather communities together. It’s founded on the idea that simple things, like delicious pie and good conversation, can bring us together and spread joy.
Pie + Conversation = Ideas. Ideas + Design = Positive Change,” reads Pie Lab’s Facebook page.
Whatley sells his pies at the restaurant and at farmers markets all over the state, including Pepper Place in Birmingham. Most weeks they sell hundreds of pies, but during the holiday season things accelerate.
“The amount of pies we sell every month depends on the season. I can tell you the week of Thanksgiving last year we sold over a thousand pies. My wife and I got here Monday morning and didn’t leave until Wednesday afternoon. We did not sleep and worked the entire time, but we loved it,” Whatley said, “It’s nice to be known and to have a lost art that’s appreciated.”
Some offerings of Pie Lab vary, but the staples are steady: apple double crust, apple crumble, triple berry, peach bourbon and cherry. Sweet pie is not the only thing you can get. They offer many savory choices, including corn and poblano quiche, broccoli cheddar, quiche Lorraine, spinach Florentine, lemon sour cream and Amish peanut butter.
Joy glistens in the eyes of customers when they bite into a piece of pie. Time slows down, and not just because you’re in the South.
“Everybody says we have the most unique pie crust. It’s somewhere between a puff pastry and a croissant, simply because of the amount of butter. We try to make everything as decadent as we can. One batch of crust has about 4 pounds of butter,” Whatley said.
Seaborn maintains that a piece of pie is not only a food or a dessert, it’s a vehicle for happiness.
“A piece of pie is joy, and really bliss. People gather around a pie and chat. It’s crazy how much our customers love our pies. We use Grandma Dora’s recipe for the crust,” Whatley said.
Pie Lab has drawn jobs to the small town. Creating jobs is something Whatley is passionate about.
“I would like to see a few more locations opening up, but the base of it is job training our youth with their first jobs and teaching them how to work.”
Whatley proudly showed a customer a map with pushpins marking the homes of customers from all over the world. He believes deeply in a simple truth: Good food brings people together and spreads joy.
The Product: Sweet and delicious pies, sandwiches, salads and other unique menu items.
Take Home: Bourbon pecan pie ($22)
1317 Main St., Greensboro, AL 36744
|Wednesday:||9 a.m. – 4 p.m.|
|Thursday:||9 a.m. – 2 p.m.|
|Friday-Saturday:||9 a.m. – 4 p.m.|
|Sunday:||9 a.m. – 2 p.m.|