National Women’s Small Business Month Series Q&A Featuring Lauren Bolden of Pie Bar
October is Women’s Small Business Month in America! To celebrate, we’re featuring Cherokee-based women-owned businesses all month long. These inspiring stories will shed a well-deserved light on their incredible leadership, business acumen, and resilience.
This week, we’ll hear from Lauren Bolden of Pie Bar – a pie shop in downtown Woodstock filled with handcrafted sweet pies, savory pies, and pie-inspired jams. Pie Bar offers “Take & Bake” pies that can be made at home, in-store treats, and baking classes!
What led you to pursue a career in baking?
When I graduated from college, I was in a position where I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do. I had a degree in political science, so I started looking around for campaigns. I joined a local campaign, enjoyed the process, and started working for Governor Nathan Deal. Though I was there for three years, I always thought to myself, “this can’t be it.”
Even though I enjoyed my team and felt like everything we were doing was important, it wasn’t something that I wanted to do long-term.
Throughout my time at the capitol, I enjoyed cooking and baking. I baked a lot for our staff, as did other team members. We also had access to a lot of Georgia-grown produce. I grew up in a rural area, so our neighbors constantly gifted us with the most amazing produce.
When I was in Atlanta, I didn’t have access to those things anymore. Once I started seeing all these great peaches coming in, and all the Georgia-grown apples, I was reminded of how much I love working with these products and got back into baking. Somebody said my pies were good, so I turned my hobby into a business.
I started selling at farmer’s markets. I also did any events that I could in local communities – really any opportunity to get our pies out and about. On July 31st of 2015, I realized I never wanted to go back to my job again. I put in my notice, and we opened Pie Bar on September 1st of 2015. Growing up, I never thought I was going to be a baker or business owner. I realized how much I enjoyed baking and being a part of the community, so I decided to give it a try and see what happened next.
What inspired you to name your business Pie Bar?
I originally loved the idea of opening a place that served craft cocktails alongside slices of homemade pie. Once I started baking on a larger scale, I realized that not only did I not know much about bakery production, I knew nothing about running a bar! So, I opted to start with the bakery side and thought I would eventually add in the cocktail side. Seven years later, we still don’t serve cocktails – I am glad we have kept our focus on pie instead. Now we tell folks that the wooden bar that lines the shop’s front window is the “bar” part of Pie Bar.
What is your favorite menu item?
I always think…what is my favorite menu item for us to eat, versus what is my favorite menu item for us to make. I really love for it to be decadent, rich, and beautiful. As a business owner, I want our products to be cost-effective and not super labor-intensive. Luckily, we have found a middle ground for both of those. Our brown sugar chess pie checks both boxes. It is a staff favorite to eat because it is sweet, salty, chewy, and it is the perfect combination of different flavors and textures.
We also try to figure out how to reach customers who request certain items. One of our most frequent requests is for a gluten-free item. While we are not able to offer this in our pastry crust, we were able to update our recipe for the brown sugar chess pie to make it gluten friendly.
How has being in Cherokee helped grow your business?
Pie Bar would not have started if we were not in Cherokee. We’ve been very fortunate to live all throughout the county. All throughout that time, I started baking a lot and doing local farmer’s markets. We did markets in Pickens, Cherokee, and Cobb County. When we went to the other markets, we would see some familiar faces but never had a consistent customer base – we built that customer base in Cherokee. These relationships and the local farmer’s markets were a huge springboard for us to open Pie Bar in Downtown Woodstock.
Tell us about your pie-baking classes!
During the Fall, Winter, and Spring we offer Hands-On Pie Baking Classes at our large production kitchen (we call it the Pie Bar Commissary) just down the street in Kennesaw. These classes are a great way for people that have an interest in baking to learn the Pie Bar techniques, including how to make pastry dough and bake pies. During the summer, we offer a hands-on pie crust class at our location in Downtown Woodstock. This is a class for people that want to focus solely on making what we call Pie Bar’s super flaky pie crust. Both are great options for novice and experienced bakers.
Who is your role model?
The first couple of years, my husband Cody handled the business side, and I handled the baking. When I started running the business, I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to other businesses in our area for advice.
I looked to Reformation a lot. Their team does a really great job of connecting with the community, creating high-quality products, and keeping their team members happy. If I am ever in a position where I am not 100% sure how to move forward, I almost always look to them to see how they would handle it. They are a great guiding post for me.
On a large scale, I love Chick-fil-A. They make such great stuff, and they’re a huge model for us in terms of our organization structure (who we hire, how we hire, how we train, and how we hopefully keep them on our team). Chick-Fil-A proprietor and Pie Bar fan Keith Booth have been a great help to our team.
Thanksgiving orders are huge for us, but when COVID happened, we had to readjust. Before COVID, people stood in line, waited 45+ minutes, and were standing close together. So, we started a drive-thru at our commissary kitchen. When we had this idea, we called Keith immediately because Chick-fil-A is the best when it comes to drive-thrus! You would think that you just get in line and pull up, but there is a science behind it all, and every decision that you make. When I called Keith, he told me to grab a pen, and he walked me through every step. This was huge, and it helped us more than we ever could have expected.
What advice would you give to others who are wanting to pursue a career in baking?
My advice for anyone pursuing a career in baking would be just to start and do it! People assume we were already experts in our field when we opened Pie Bar. I had never baked professionally or worked in a professional kitchen before I opened Pie Bar. That made it hard when I had some tumbles, falls, and experiences for guests that weren’t great. I wish I could’ve avoided those, but they also informed a lot of our current decision-making. I was also able to do a lot of testing and trials at the farmer’s markets, and here in the shop when we first opened.
If there is something that I really want to do, I will tell somebody who will hold me accountable. If you want to start a bakery, tell someone that you want to start a bakery, and do something to take a step in that direction.
To learn more about Pie Bar, visit https://orderpiebar.com/.