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2020 Pie Bar Recap

2020 Pie Bar Recap
If you read my 2019 Pie Bar Recap, you saw that I was super pumped about my transition from pie maker to business operator. I spent 2019 shifting into my new role as Pie Bar grew and started introducing myself (in my head) as
Lauren Bolden, the business bitch.

On January 10, 2020, I sat down and wrote my goals for the year. 

Today, January 1, 2021, I went through and checked off what we had accomplished. 

-Open Pie Bar 2 (Marietta!) - Check!
-Increase Revenue in Order to Serve Our Community Better - Getting there!
-Continue to Develop and Foster Our Leadership Team - Working on it!

Whenever I make a decision for our team and the organization, it was important to me to factor in goals. I even have a sticky note on my desk that says
“Is this contributing to my goal?”
I (shamefully) love self-help books and read somewhere that you should write down your goals..which is why I now have written down my goal of working on my goals. yikes.

These specific goals were my driving force starting in January.
We kicked off 2020 strong, with our Post-Holiday Swap Meet. Events (pre-Covid) helped drive revenue for us, especially during non-pie seasons. The swap meet was a way for us to engage with our community, promote sustainability (swapping items instead of tossing them!) and sell some pie during January. The event was a bigger hit than we expected, with people swapping items like candles, toys, and even a kayak!

This gave us the momentum to launch into our second event..a Vault Release Day. The idea was to bring back a pie that we were no longer able to serve on a daily basis (maybe it cost too much to make the pie, or it is too time consuming to make) and offer that pie for one day only. We launched the Vault Release program with a Pie Bar fav: S’mores Pie. Two hours after opening, we were sold out, and a little shook up. The Vault Release beast was awoken, and has continued to sustain our business throughout the entire year.
PS. Count on it to make appearances in 2021!

February came and went, relatively uneventful. There was a snow day which meant we had lots of pies to serve and sell, but no team members to serve and sell them (safety first!). Cody and I carefully drove to Pie Bar and served guests slices, take and bake pot pies and hot coffee. We opened early that day and everyone that came by had walked there from their homes. Days like this reminded me why I loved Pie Bar and being a part of a community so much. As I served someone a cup of coffee at the bar, I looked around and saw a couple sitting on the couch, people walking by in boots and beanies, and my husband greeting someone as they walked through the door. It was like a damn Norman Rockwell painting and I loved every second of it.

Whispers started in March. There was something happening and it was big. By mid-March, places were closing down. People were scared. I was scared. Selfishly I thought of myself first. “What am I going to do if Pie Bar closes? How will we pay our bills/eat Moe’s burritos/buy beer from Reformation?" After a brief moment of mourning the potential loss of  burritos and beers, I realized something. What about our team? Pie Bar employs approximately 15 people, with about half of them relying on Pie Bar for their full income. How will they pay their bills/eat at Moe’s/buy beer from Reformation? What if something happens to them? 

I had just turned 30-years-old, and up to this point, I had never experienced a true crisis in our business..especially as a leader. How do I keep my team safe, employed, and in good spirits?

We paused all part-timers coming in to reduce the amount of people coming and going. We increased safety protocols for our Bakers at the Commissary Kitchen, and Cody, Vivian, and I worked every shift at Pie Bar from mid-March through Mid- April. We ran orders out to cars, we packed pies for shipping, and got through each day by sharing a single beer split three ways (Jude, of course). 

One night in late March, I got home from working at Pie Bar, and went straight to bed. I laid down and listened to Cody move around in the kitchen, trying to decide what we would have for dinner that night (beans, again!). As I laid there, the fear crept in. I couldn’t breathe. My chest was tight and my breaths came in spasms. I had never had a panic attack before, but in that moment, I knew what was happening. Cody came in and knelt by the bed. He knew. He stayed with me as I cried for our team, our community, and the weight of responsibility that I felt. Eventually my chest loosened, and my breathing slowed. The panic settled and I told myself that feeling this way was normal. We ate ice cream for dinner, went to bed, and started again the next day. 

We welcomed back our team with gloves, masks, and 6-Feet-Apart Signs in late April. We spent the majority the following months on edge, working each day to make sure our guests were being served well, that bills were getting paid, and oh yeah, construction on our second shop was moving along. 

You see, back in February, we signed a lease for a second space, this time in the Marietta Square. At the time, we knew nothing of Covid-19, and had not heard the word “pandemic.” We didn’t find it strange that we were denied by four different banks for a small business loan (hindsight, right?). 

After the fourth bank told us “no, you silly goose..we will not give you money!” we started exploring what it would be like to take on an investor. We knew that Pie Bar was in a stage of growth, and that we needed the second shop for things to make sense financially (remember my goals!?!). 

If you have ever attempted to raise money for a business, bless you. It is awkward and totally breaks down any sort of ego you may have had. You are suddenly cold calling anyone you know that “may know someone who has interest in investing in a small food business?” Gag.

By this point in May, construction and permit pulling was underway, and we were pushing through..pandemic or not. Like most people, we thought this thing would wrap up before summer ends and we would have a big grand opening in the fall. A bank had still not issued us a loan, so we were operating on a shoestring budget, and the *shudder inducing* credit cards.

Then one day, a man I had never met walked into Pie Bar. He introduced himself and asked if I had a minute. We sat on Pie Bar’s little couch, and he said, “Someone told me you were looking for a loan to open a second shop. I want to loan you the money.” I was shocked, confused, and concerned about this man’s intentions. We had never met, and suddenly he was sitting across from me offering to loan me thousands of dollars? We talked for a few hours. He toured our shop, our soon to be Marietta shop, our commissary kitchen, and went through P&L statements.

He and his wife loaned us the money we needed.

This is a man that knew nothing about us, but believed in the power of community and small businesses. When he wrote us the check, I asked him why he was doing this. He looked at me and said “because I know you’ll be able to do it without me, but I believe in what you’re doing and I want to help.” 

Cody and I took the check and WENT TO THE BEACH, YALL. JKJKJJKJKJKJKJKJK 

We took the money and invested it into our Marietta shop and our team. It allowed us to create a second place to bring joy to people through pie. 

Months of construction went by. Throughout the month of June I wanted to be the overseeing contractor on the job, so I made sure to wear my best Project Manager Outfit (jeans, boots, brown button down, pen in the shirt pocket) anytime I was on site. Turns out, construction guys don’t respond to the power of an outfit (what?!), so Cody eventually took over and did a bang-up job. 

In July we had to make the painful decision to stop shipping our pies. We had launched nationwide shipping the summer before, and less than a year later we had to shut it down. The strain of mass amounts of products being shipped was already being felt by the shipping providers (we see you USPS, UPS, Fed-Ex..yall got this!!) and pies were arriving in rough shape.

It was not an easy decision to stop shipping pies since shipping had started to grow as a significant stream of revenue for Pie Bar, but emotionally we could only handle so many sad phone calls and financially Pie Bar can only handle so much loss.

The time had finally come, construction was over, our team was happy and healthy, and in mid-August we opened Pie Bar Marietta. We didn’t have the grand opening we had been dreaming about. Instead, we quietly opened one weekday afternoon. 

Opening a second location has brought a lot of challenges, but it has also given our team a tremendous opportunity for growth. I cannot be in all three locations at once, so leadership and getting processes in place amongst team members became incredibly important. Things we had thought we figured out in Woodstock were different in Marietta. Our guests' needs and desires are different in Marietta than Woodstock, and it takes time to figure out how to best serve each community.

 I made the mistake early on of comparing Woodstock to Marietta. I was addicted to checking sales numbers and couldn’t understand why Marietta wasn’t on par with Woodstock. People would ask “how are things going in Marietta?” and I would reply “GREAT!!” without really thinking that they were great.

Finally I shared my fear (and frankly, embarrassment) with Cody, expressing to him my concern that the Marietta shop isn’t doing the same numbers as the Woodstock shop. Being the wise and patient person he is, he patted me on the head (metaphorically) and pointed out to me that of course Marietta is not doing the same numbers as Woodstock..yet. I was comparing a 5-year-old shop in Woodstock to a one-month-old shop in Marietta. It takes time, young one, and just like we did in Woodstock, we have to put in the work before we can expect to see the same growth and foot traffic we have now. I had done it again..comparing apples and oranges (I did this years ago with Pie Provisions as well) and once we had that conversation, I was able to settle down, roll up my sleeves and get to work. 

In late September and October, we saw an uptick in foot traffic and sales in Marietta thanks to Taste of the South Magazine featuring us as one of the South’s 10 best Apple Pies, Atlanta Food and Wine asking me to teach a pie baking class (which yall sold out!!!), and launching our Digital Pie Baking Class: 5 Steps to Flaky Pie Crust. The momentum was what we needed as we moved into November, our biggest month of the entire year.

November at Pie Bar is bigger than January and February combined in terms of sales. November pays for January and February. We had no clue what to expect when it came time for our big push:  Thanksgiving

This would be our 6th Thanksgiving, but our 1st in the middle of a pandemic..a pandemic that didn’t allow for people to congregate, which normally they do when it comes time for picking up their Thanksgiving pie. We floated the idea of a Pie Drive Thru at our Commissary Kitchen, and decided to roll with it. The support we received was overwhelming. We pre-sold more pies this Thanksgiving than any other year. When it came down to Drive-Thru logistics, we consulted with the best in the biz (Chick-Fil-Freakin-A) and they made sure we knew the basics: mind the gap, have lots of checkpoints, and invest in headsets. If I had to point out one highlight for 2020 for me, it was definitely getting to use a headset. It felt very secret service and I loved the illusion of power it gave me.

We made it through Pie Drive Thru with *mostly* positive feedback and set our sights on December. If Thanksgiving is our Super Bowl, Christmas is our AFC Championship. It’s big, but there is no half-time show or dip spread, ya know? We decided that we would have Christmas pick-ups in the shops instead of through the Pie Drive Thru. The volume of people we serve is less, so there is less chance for congregating AND because the volume of pre-orders is less, we needed to be open for walk-in sales and gift purchases. 

Our community poured out love for us again, and blew us away with their support. Did we get everything right? No, but we are excited to use what we learned this Christmas as we continue to grow. Serving large volumes of people across multiple locations and serving them really well takes work and practice, and we are excited to continue to implement what we have learned. 

2020 has been a year of pivots, challenges, and throwing the play-book out the window. It has brought grief, heartache, and joy. I have shared so much this year with you, and many of you have done the same with me. I have come to know many of you on a deeper level than I ever expected. You have shared your fears, thoughts, goals and dreams with me, and I am so grateful.

A few times this year people told me that I was “embarrassing myself” by sharing so much and that I “need to learn about marketing a business.” They said it’s “just pie” and that I need to be quiet. 

What they don’t understand is that it will never be about just pie.

Pie Bar serves pie..and really great pie at that, but that pie is just a vessel for us..we are about community, bringing you joy, and providing a place (whether that is in person or online!) that even for just a moment, you feel welcomed, seen, and understood. 

This has been a challenging year for many and I hope you know that each day our team comes to work to bake pies, fill your cup with coffee, or even write an email..we are doing it for a purpose..and that purpose is you.
Thank you for allowing us another year with you.

Cheers to 2021.


*Clinks champagne glasses together and then drinks both*
Lauren