As easy as pie

Amanda Wilbanks’ career path is lined with family recipes

abby breaux photography
abby breaux photography
Amanda Wilbanks owner of Southern Baked Pie Company.
abby breaux photography
abby breaux photography
abby breaux photography
abby breaux photography
Amanda Wilbanks owner of Southern Baked Pie Company.
abby breaux photography

It wasn’t the end result of her mother-in-law’s tutorial on baking — a delicious buttermilk pie — but the creative process itself that inspired Amanda Wilbanks to set off on a new career path.

From that visit five years ago when she was introduced to the art of baking pies, Wilbanks has created a pie empire in metro Atlanta, with three locations of Southern Baked Pie Company churning out hundreds of pies each day.

“I really didn’t know much about baking pies back then, but as I watched her make it there was an ‘aha’ moment,” recalled Wilbanks, who at the time was at a crossroads in her career. “It was about the process, and the artistry, but most important the connections and memories that were part of it.”

The two women took the just baked pie from the oven and set it outside to cool, with Wilbanks resisting the urge to quickly cut into the pie.

“She made me wait,” she said, laughing about her mother-in-law’s gentle admonishments. “The first bite was heavenly. The whole process from start to finish made me fall in love with it and I started baking pies for fun.”

Originally from Habersham County, Wilbanks graduated from UGA in 2009 with a marketing degree. She quickly focused on climbing the corporate ladder of an established company. But after a year in insurance sales where she felt she hit the glass ceiling, Wilbanks knew she needed something different.

“I had always wanted to own my own company,” said Wilbanks, who moved to Gainesville in 2012 when she and husband, Alex, married. “Both my parents were entrepreneurs and business owners, and dinner table conversation was always about business. I was surrounded by it.”

She had grown up cooking at the feet of her grandmother and mother, but baking was new to her. With a handful of her mother-in-law Sandy Wilbanks’ recipes, Wilbanks set out to learn.

Her first pies were simply for friends and family, but with rave reviews and encouragement, Wilbanks soon began selling her pies at area festivals. During the fall festival season in 2012, Wilbanks was making hundreds of pies each month out of her home kitchen.

“In December alone I made close to 500 pies,” she said. “I knew this was something that could be a business…and that was the best decision I ever made.”

Six months later, in August 2013, the Buttermilk Pie Company officially opened in Gainesville, named after the pie that started it all…and still Alex’s favorite pie.

Wilbanks used her marketing and social media savvy to tap into the base of customers she gathered from previous sales, reaching out through Facebook and other platforms to let people know about the new brick and mortar business.

But still, venturing out on her own was a scary prospect, even with Alex by her side as her business partner and chief financial officer. She was also the mother of a young son (she now has two, ages 7 and 2), and balancing parent and business duties required a lot of juggling.

“On opening day I was scared to death,” laughs Wilbanks. “I couldn’t even bring myself to pull the craft paper off the windows, so my mom and aunt just ripped it down!”

Wilbanks had nothing to worry about. On opening day, customers began to trickle in immediately and the lines grew as the hours went by.

After three years of expanding sales, Wilbanks opened locations in Buckhead and in Alpharetta across from Avalon – both in October 2016.

Wilbanks said she never planned to open two stores within weeks of each other, but construction delays outside her control made it necessary. It was one of many challenges she faced, and lessons learned, on the way to becoming a business owner, she noted.

The company also changed the name to Southern Baked Pie Company, which better described the shops’ expansive menu of both dessert pies and dinner pies.

Signature dessert pies include the caramel pecan pie which won the 2016 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest, along with chocolate chess, French coconut and apple. Popular mealtime pies include chicken pot pie and tomato.

Seasonal creations are always a fixture on the menu depending on the time of year and include Georgia peach, pumpkin, blackberry, beef stroganoff and Southwestern taco pies.

Today, the three stores employ 20 full-time people. Wilbanks loves that her staff is nearly all women, and said empowering women and supporting them in their careers is important.

“My employees range from women who just need the opportunity to get back on their feet to those who were at the top of their game in the corporate world and just wanted to do something different,” she said.

Despite the growth, Wilbanks says the pies remain identical to the ones she baked, one by one, in her home kitchen years ago. The recipes are from family, and the pies are made on location using locally-sourced ingredients.

“Every single recipe came from my mother in law, with a few from my mom and grandmother,” Wilbanks said. “We don’t have anything on our menu that hasn’t been tried and tested.”

Looking forward, Wilbanks said new locations will likely open in the next few years, and franchise opportunities are being considered. She is also excited about a cookbook coming out next year containing recipes for all the pies, even the prized all-butter crust.

And despite being surrounded by pies all day at work, Wilbanks says they remain a huge part of her home life as well.

“Honest to goodness you’ll definitely see pies in our house every day!” she said. ■


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