From The Desk Of … Southern Baked Pie Company
Anyone else think pie might be a gift from heaven? I have been a lover of pie basically my whole life, from savory to sweet. If it has a pie crust I am immediately attracted to it in the best way possible. As a child one of my favorite restaurants in my home town of Lakeland, Florida was famous for two things, broiled grapefruit and pie. To this day any visit to the area will find me in a seat at the counter asking what they have that day. It makes me feel like a small child again with my family reminding me to “save room for pie”. Imagine my excitement to learn about Southern Baked Pie Company and their delicious pies. Founder Amanda Wilbanks is doing her best to make her amazing pies a household name with shops in Atlanta, Alpharetta, and her home city of Gainesville, Georgia. Armed with some family recipes, an all-butter pie dough recipe and the ability to turn any NO into a YES she and her team are known for their use of local ingredients to create one-of-a-kind delicious pies.
In my opinion what sets Southern Baked Pie Company apart is their combination of both savory and sweet pies, well that and a pie crust that you just can’t quit. I have not had the privilege to try their savory pies but I can tell you the sweet ones are to die for with a taste you just can’t shake. I have heard many people rave about the Southwestern Taco Pie and it stands at the top of my must-try list. Can you imagine tacos + pie, I don’t think I could think of a better combination. With a stocked menu of quiches, savory pies and sweet pies made with local fruit and ingredients I think Amanda has nailed the pie market. If you aren’t blessed with a location near you, don’t fret, Southern Baked Pie ships three days a week and it is as easy as a few clicks to have a fresh baked Southern Baked Pie on your counter and ready to serve.
As we know I love to interview creatives and bakers and chefs may be one of my favorites since I truly love to enjoy their creations. I truly see them as artists able to create an incredible and delicious piece of art they can share with others. Amanda was kind enough to share her story with me which I am blessed to share with you. As you read her story you will notice the importance of cooking for others has played in her life and why she has chosen to share her recipes and gift with others.
First of all, tell me about Amanda Wilbanks. Where did you grow up and how did your childhood influence your life and your business today?
I grew up in Habersham County, Baldwin, Georgia with a mom who cooked every single meal. She was a phenomenal cook. She could throw an amazing meal together, complete with dessert every night in less than an hour. We only ate out on the weekends. I spent my afternoons at the bar watching my mom cook while she called out my sight words, helped me with my homework and made dinner at the same time. I grew up around cooking. My grandparents always had a garden and we literally date what we grew. It sounds funny, but farm to table was a thing at our house before farm to table became a “trend”. It was just a way of life and I remember the food tasting so much better back then.
My parents were business owners in the community and I grew up listening to them talk about business, customers, jobs, employees, and the day in and day out highs and lows of owning a business. I was always a little nosey. My family said they could always find me right up under an adult, listening intently to their conversations. I truly believe that is how you learn the most, listening to others mistakes and successes.
I always knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world … better in some way. I majored in biology at the University of Georgia. I thought I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I just knew being a doctor and saving lives would be my calling. I quickly realized biology wasn’t for me. I called my parents one day to let them know I was changing my major from biology to business. They were shocked but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I graduated with a business degree in marketing from the Terry College of Business. While taking business classes I quickly realized I wanted to own my own company. Never would I have dreamed I would own a pie company, though.
I took a job with State Farm straight out of college and and was an aspirant in a program that trained you to become an agent. While working with State Farm, I learned to sell – not only to sell insurance but to sell myself. I learned to NEVER fear rejection. I learned to NEVER accept NO for an answer. I received so many “Nos”, “I am not interested”, “Do not call me back”, “Take me off the list” responses at State Farm. Learning how to respond to NO or handle rejection made me a much better business owner today and ultimately gave me the courage to start my own company. It’s through hearing NO that I learned to develop a lack of fear and what gave me the courage to quit my job and start my own company. When I left State Farm my family said, “NO. Don’t give up your career. That’s the worst idea EVER!” I knew I would take their No’s and turn them into Yes’s eventually. It was a challenge for me and I love a challenge.
“Learning how to respond to NO or handle rejection made me a much better business owner today and ultimately gave me the courage to start my own company. It’s through hearing NO that I learned to develop a lack of fear and what gave me the courage to quit my job and start my own company.” – Amanda Wilbanks
Tell me about how the love affair with pie began?
I feel in love with pie when my mother in law came into town and taught me how to make a buttermilk pie. I grew up cooking and baking, but rarely making homemade pies. Pastry is something that is so delicate. When making it you have to follow directions. It is a science. When cooking you add a little of this and a little of that add a TA DA, but with baking and pastry making you have to slow down, relax and concentrate on the process.
Slowing down is extremely difficult for me. I’m high energy all the time. When my mother in law working in my kitchen for the first time I noticed how slowly and methodically she worked. She made the pie with such grace and calmness. I knew watching her that I wanted to learn more. I enjoyed slowing down and taking a moment to enjoy the process. And then, of course, taking a bite of the sweet buttermilk pie after it baked sealed the deal, I was in LOVE at the first bite.
How did the journey to Southern Baked Pie Company begin?
Very organically. Soon after my mother in law returned to Denver I called and asked for more of her pie recipes. I wanted to make pies and give them to my neighbors. I started making them for fun. My husband Alex would come in on his lunch break and eat almost half a pie. Needless to say those pies never made it to the neighbors.
One day Alex came in from work and said he had signed me up for a festival. When I questioned him he told me “So you can sell these pies, I can’t keep eating all of these!”. He signed me up on a Tuesday and I was selling pies by Thursday afternoon. I created a company name, logo and had business cards printed in less than 48 hours. How I did it all to this day I will never know. I bought a tent, put out a sign and started selling pies Thursday afternoon. I sold pies at the festival all weekend long. I wore heels, a suite jacket and pearls and handed out over 1500 business cards.
The festival was a huge success and was the official start of the company. A couple months later we leased a space and opened our first retail location. Now we have three locations, Alpahretta, Buckhead and Gainesville, a large production facility, a wholesale division and a shipping division of the company where we drop ship for customers such a Dean and Deluca and Garden and Gun Merchantile.
Anything you wish you had done along the way and didn’t do?
It’s funny, there is not much at this point I wish I had done that I didn’t do along the way … but there are TONS of things that I look forward to doing in the future based on what I know now.
My personal motto when I started the company was to never fear saying yes! I think that enabled me to accept numerous opportunities that helped the company grow to places I never imagined. For example, I was asked to donate pies for Georgia’s Weekend for Wildlife this past weekend. I said yes. Over the weekend I was able to meet and speak with the governor and his wife, talk with country music star Billy Currington about pies and share my pies with 420 who might never have known who our company was had it not been for that opportunity. Orders were placed online for shipping as soon as the event ended and it was totally worth giving away all the pies for the business I am receiving in return and, of course, for the EXPERIENCE.
One thing I look forward to doing in the future that I didn’t do in the past is to ask people I know around me to help me spread the word about my pies. The people I have formed relationships with over the years want to help businesses grow. My friend James Farmer recently shared our pies with Al Roker and his wife Deborah. They fell in LOVE with the pies and have been ordering them regularly. There is no telling who they will share them with.
I wish I had tapped my friend groups sooner and asked them to share my pies earlier. We are all in business to win and succeed and the quickest way to win is to help others in my opinion. We have to build our companies together. Rome wasn’t built by one man … it is all about fostering good relationships and tapping those relationships when needed.
“Rome wasn’t built by one man … it is all about fostering good relationships and tapping those relationships when needed.”
Share two people who have inspired your journey and why.
Early on in my journey I met a man named George Jones in Gainesville, Georgia. He was retired. He previously owned an insurance company and sold it. He wanted nothing more to help me in business, give me ideas, connect me with people. We developed a friendship like no other and I wouldn’t have as successful of a company if it wasn’t for his guidance. He did things like review my financials, help me get a loan, advise me on who to use for accounting, found me an attorney, etc. It is crucial to find a good mentor that has years of experience in business.
Sara Blakely is someone who inspires me everyday. She does everything in her power to push herself to do things she fears or might fail at, which I think is awesome. She inspires me to do things that scare me. She inspires me to take risks. She inspires me to never care what others think, because the craziest ideas are usually the best ideas that no one can understand at the moment but think are brilliant later.
I could not possibly leave out my mom. I know it sounds cliche but she inspires me to be a great career woman, mother and wife. She has shown me it is all possible. Living a balanced life can be achieved. And she encourages me daily which is something we all need – someone to lift us up!
Can you share a high point in your journey and what was that like for you?
The high point in my journey was opening the Buckhead and Alpharetta stores. I spent months agonizing over every detail in each store. I designed them from top to bottom. I designed the packaging, the branding, the layout of the stores – I picked out the paint color, trim, floors, cabinets – every single detail. I remember thinking it would NEVER come together. I would fall asleep every night, sick to my stomach, and pray that people would show up on opening day. On grand opening day when I saw everything I cried. It was the most emotional moment. Seeing it all come together made me realize I can do anything no matter how small or big the challenge, I can make it happen. I realized at that moment our company was not only going to make it, but make it BIG.
What is the key to making a great pie?
The key to making a great pie is great ingredients and practice. Making pie dough is like making biscuits, the more you do it the better you get at it. Cold ingredients is also key! Always use freezing cold water and butter as your fat. If gives the pastry and not only a flaky, tender texture but a delicious taste.
What is your best seller?
Southern Baked Pie Caramel Pecan (2016 Flavor of Georgia Grand Prize Winner) and Chicken Pot Pie made with Springer Mountain chicken. People go crazy over the chicken pot pie. If it snows it’s like everything now has to get their bread, milk, eggs and Southern Baked chicken pot pie.
Do you have a favorite pie?
Of course! My favorite is the Chocolate Chess and the Southwestern Taco Pie! We have taco Tuesday every week at our house. I buy shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa. I put everything out on the bar, pop my pie in the oven to bake and as soon as it’s finished my kids dress it up with toppings.
Is there a difference when making sweet vs. savory pies?
The thing that is so great about our crust is that it can be used in both sweet and savory pies. My cookbook that is coming out late summer 2018 highlights how versatile our pastry recipe can be. You can make anything from appetizers to main entrees to desserts with our signature Southern Baked crust.
What is your favorite way to unwind?
I’m all about work throughout the week so I LIVE for the weekends. My favorite way to unwind is to leave on Friday afternoons with my husband and two sons and head to Lake Burton. There is no place I would rather be than on the lake with my kids. I’m able to breathe better in the mountains. I feel lighter there. I love watching my kids enjoy the place I grew up going to as a kid. Somehow, I enjoy it more now than ever before. I think it’s because I’m able to see the beauty and calmness of the surroundings through my children.
I know this sounds terrible and so fattening but my favorite meal in the world is southern fried pork chops with creamy onion gravy and mashed potatoes. The only thing that rivals it in comparison is white rice smothered in my grandmother’s homemade gravy. I swear there is nothing better in the world in this world! It’s the simple meals that are the best to me – ones I grew up eating. Those are the meals that bring me to my knees.
Sweets, music, Aquaphor, Buxom Pumping lip gloss and my camera.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost.
Are you on the Southern Baked Pie site ordering pies to have delivered? I am already making a must-try list and preparing for a trip to Alpharetta! I love Amanda’s story and the lessons she shares about making changes in her path and how each one prepared her for the space she is currently in. Each NO is an opportunity for a YES when it comes to business. Words we can all use and definitely take to the bank.
You must try Southern Baked Pie and share this knowledge with your dear friends. There is nothing like a home-cooked meal shared around a table and I think Amanda’s pies may be the answer to what’s for dinner!
What a success story built on determination and love. I am a Brenau College graduation and how well I remember the “Snack Shack”located next to my sorority house. A Wilbanks lady made the best desserts ever there. Just wondered if there was a family connection there.