I cry every year on my birthday. The mix of expectations, attention, and the simple fact that “another year has gone by,” seems to be too much for my body to contain, so I must get out the overwhelm of feelings with tears. I would say it is safe to assume that I cry on New Year’s Eve as well, but strangely enough, I find December 31st entirely refreshing.
Cody and I started Pie Bar in 2015 when we were 25 years old. Over the past seven years I have held the tradition of sitting down and writing a Pie Bar Recap for the year that has passed. I’ve found it cathartic during hard years and incredibly uplifting during successful ones.
Each year’s recap is a time capsule of what we went through as an organization. The 2016 Pie Bar Recap is filled with passion for local ingredients like Georgia Grown strawberries and peaches. In 2017 I can feel my excitement about community engagement and the people that started to populate our team. I must have been tired in 2018 because I cannot find the recap for that year; however, in 2019 I started shifting my focus to the business side of Pie Bar instead of only baking. The 2020 Recap is filled with heartbreak and pivots while 2021 was all about recovery and holding on through the continuing pandemic.
At the end of December 2021 I saw the exhaustion in our teams’ eyes. They needed a reprieve from the day-to-day pressure that can come when operating on high alert. Did someone test positive today? Did we hit our sales goal? Will we go out of business like so many other Covid casualties?
Numbers and data are important to keep your business in-business. In fact, I would say to run a sustainable and successful business you have to find this ever-changing balance between the numbers, the culture, and the product. But every now and then you have to intentionally offset the balance and shift your focus to one of the facets to ensure a stronger future. In 2022 this meant a focus on culture and our people.
We decided to make 2022 “The Year of Fun!”
When our Leadership Team makes decisions we always fall back on a few items: Our Core Values (Community, Accountability, Passionate Positivity, and Warm Memories) and our Purpose Chart (Pie Bar’s Purpose is to Bring Joy Through Pie). Do the Core Values and the Purpose Chart support the decision we are about to make? Yes? Then move forward. No? Pump the brakes.
In 2022 we added a third check-in before making a decision. Does this satisfy our focus on creating “The Year of Fun”?
We kicked off 2022 in January and February with what I consider a lot of fun: A brand new pie flavor (hello, Mocha Cream!) and a light construction project (let’s knock down a wall and open this kitchen up a little.)
Our Honorary Team Mom, Jill, along with our Woodstock Shop Team Lead, Tony, hosted a surprise Bridal Shower for our General Manager, Vivian. We all sipped on Tiny Bubbles Tea and asked Vivian inappropriate questions about her upcoming honeymoon.
By the time March and April rolled around we were in Full-Fun-Swing and started partnering up with other local businesses faster than two teens at prom. Fashion Cupcake in Downtown Woodstock hosted us for a Pop-Up in conjunction with Visit Woodstock Georgia’s Spring Sip + Shop. We then created *another* new pie with Red Hare Brewing. The Spring Break Pie was born and highlighted Red Hare’s Pecan Spiced Rum. We closed out the Spring with a little TV time where I was labeled a “Pecan Expert” on Atlanta + Company...and if being called an expert in anything is not fun to you, then obviously our priorities are different.
Since we wanted “The Year of Fun” to continue, we launched our largest series ever: The Inspired Pie Series. This series ran from May, June, July, and August and each month we featured a different pie shop and its signature pie flavor at Pie Bar. We passed out free Inspired Pie Series Passports that were later redeemed for items like free pie or custom stickers.
While simultaneously hosting The Inspired Pie Series, we started sending team members back out into the streets where they got to interact with the community. Events like Woodstock Art’s Art on the Green, three different Pop-Ups hosted by Dress Up Boutiques, a Christmas in July event with actual holiday flavors, a team meet-up where we played games and drank some beers at Kennesaw’s Horned Owl Brewing, and because we love making our space so pretty, we got new flooring and a new front door at Pie Bar Woodstock.
August meant Pie Bar Marietta turned 2-years-old and we celebrated with the launch of our first Gluten Friendly Pie (Brown Sugar Chess!) and a Gluten Free Pie Pop collaboration with King of Pops (Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Pop with Gluten Free Crumble.) We treated ourselves to some flower boxes outside of the Marietta Square Shop to jazz things up a bit because no second child is satisfied until things are “even stevens.” (But Woodstock got new floors! What do I get?!?)
If you can believe it, Pie Bar Woodstock turned 7-years-old in September. In an effort to continue “The Year of Fun” as we shifted into our busy season, we participated in Atlanta Food + Wine, Taste of Woodstock, launched our new Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie, and finally received our newest (and most expensive!) piece of equipment: A Cookie Crust Press. This piece of equipment helps our team make more graham cracker, oreo, and oat crumble pie crusts in less time, which means they have more time for fun things like the nacho bar and game night we held for the team.
It seems folks were back on the “let’s have a big wedding train” because in October our team baked for 12 weddings. One of the weddings was held at the same vineyard where Cody and I were married in 2013, so we celebrated 9 years of marriage over a glass of wine and a secret slice of pie. Back in Woodstock, we partnered with our OG favorite business, Reformation Brewery to celebrate their 9th anniversary with a special Pie Bar Beer: Spiced Oatmeal Cookie Pie Imperial Brown Ale. If you were lucky enough to get a six-pack then you know pie and beer are fantastic partners. We hosted the 2nd Annual Pie Eating Contest in partnership with The City of Marietta Parks & Recreation Department, and only a few people got whipped cream up their noses.
I was stressed going into November, unsure how I would carry on with “The Year of Fun” during our busiest month of the year. Thanksgiving Week is something we begin to plan for in August due to the large scope of pies, people, and planning required to pull off baking 1,800 pies in three days. Following Thanksgiving Week we poll our team to find out what was done well and what could be improved. Our Leadership Team received feedback like “least stressful Thanksgiving ever,” and “the most fun I’ve had while working at Pie Bar,” so I would say that “The Year of Fun” lived on through the Thanksgiving Season. PLUS, I was only yelled at by two people that entire week, so I WOULD SAY THAT IS A SUCCESS (the average is usually about 6 people, so 2 is a HUGE WIN!)
In December we celebrated our team with an evening of cookie swapping and arcade games at Blue Ghost Arcade in Downtown Woodstock. It turns out our team has some closeted pinball lovers, and I was glad to see we were able to further their obsession.
We experienced some heartbreak on December 23rd when our Marietta Shop was broken into and our safe and cash drawer were taken. Dealing with a robbery doesn’t really fall under my idea of fun, but it did highlight so many things for us to be grateful for. Our team rallied together and quickly set a plan to serve our Marietta guests that were expecting their Christmas Pies that same day. Our community overwhelmed us with love and support in the form of phone calls, text messages, social media comments, and donations of food and money. They wanted to make sure that our team knew just how beloved they really are, and as we ate gifted tacos and ran around serving customers that had come out to support us, I knew that although this particular moment was not fun, it was special. And sure, 2022 was supposed to be “The Year of Fun” not “The Year of Special,” but when I look back at all of the things we did as a team and a community this year, I would say either is fine with me.
Cody and I sat down yesterday and had our end-of-year review meeting. We cover our annual finances (is this thing making money?!), our turnover rate (are our people happy?!), our products (do the pies taste so good?!), and set plans for the upcoming year.
I was pleased to see that “The Year of Fun” was a success. We remained profitable, our in-house staff promotions, perks, and pay increased, and our pies have never looked or tasted better.
When you focus heavily on one area of your business it can be scary because that means the other areas may not be receiving the level of attention needed to thrive. But it seems, taking the leap into “The Year of Fun” allowed our team to breathe after a couple of challenging years and has rejuvenated our passion for Pie Bar’s Purpose of Bringing Joy Through Pie.
Happy New Year. I am excited to see what happens in 2023.