In March 2009, I was among a group of young graphic designers from all over the country that gathered in Belfast, Maine for a 2-week session of Project M.
We opted to use our time together to unite people within the community. Our chosen vehicle was free pie.
On 3/14/09 (Pi Day), we hosted the very first Free Pie Day. It was founded on the idea that simple things, such as pie, can bring people together and spread joy.
The inaugural event was so successful that it led to several other Free Pie Events around the country, and ultimately, a permanent pie shop and community space in Greensboro, Alabama, called PieLab.
This idea first manifested as a small pop-up pie experiment, which was possible through the guidance and technical support of a local non-profit housing resource center, HERO.
After securing grant funding and raising money through Kickstarter, we purchased and renovated a building on Main Street. The space evolved into a full-service pie shop, community space, plus design collective on Main Street.
While PieLab operated day-to-day as a cafe and bakery, we also developed a job-training program in hospitality and small business principles for local youth, provided design services for local businesses, planned and facilitated small business workshops for local entrepreneurs, and held an array of community events.
One initiative we developed in collaboration with YouthBuild—a non-profit which provides education, counseling, and job skills to unemployed young adults—won a Design Ignites Change Grant. We guided the students in starting a small business utilizing a local resource and worked with them to design and print labels and tags for pecan butter and pecan brittle.
We constructed pie shop space and signage with salvaged materials, and designed and developed the website, products, merchandise, and communication materials.
Today, PieLab continues to thrive as a bustling cafe and lunch spot, and is now owned by a couple from Hale County.
PieLab was a collaborative project, built by many, including John Bielenberg, Archie Lee Coates IV, Megan Deal, Pam Door, Breanne Kostyk, Jeff Franklin, Brian W. Jones, Dan Gavin, Haik Avanian, Robin Mooty, and Ryan LeCluyse, among others.
In 2013, PieLab was selected as one of AIGA’s projects for 100 Years of Design “that Assists”. It was nominated for a James Beard Award in Outstanding Restaurant Design in 2010 and has been featured in the New York Times, Southern Living, KCRW's Good Food podcast, Fast Company, GOOD, Bon Appetit, ID Magazine, and more.
Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie...