One year ago this week, PieLab opened its doors as a humble but ambitious pop-up pie shop. However, it wasn’t in the heart of New York City where this type of thing is common, it was in the small rural town of Greensboro, Alabama. With just $600 and a lot of sweat equity, this design-for-good project, was built with the hope of providing a space to foster conversation and relationships that would engage the community in something inspiring.
Within a few weeks, enough residents had embraced the idea of pie and conversation to convince the designers (part of the Design-for-Good movement Project M), that PieLab needed to become a permanent addition to the community. With the help of HERO, a non-profit housing organization and the fundraising website Kickstarter, enough money was raised for the materials (what couldn’t be salvaged anyway) to renovate a larger space on Maine Street that could facilitate more projects and make more pie.
When the new location opened last November, a number of new programs also emerged. As well as offering pie, coffee and design services, PieLab began teaching local YouthBuild students valuable culinary and hospitality skills, hosting small business classes, organizing open mic nights, curating gallery openings for local artists, and even holding ball room dance classes instigated by the local barber. The space has transformed from an outsider’s experiment in a small town, to a hub of community led creation and participation offering new opportunities in a place not often recognized for doing so.
In the months following the grand re-opening, PieLab was honored as a runner-up for a James Beard Award in the restaurant design category and the YouthBuild students won a $12,000 Design Ignites Change Award to fund the development of their business idea—turning local Pecans into a range of delicious products for sale. PieLab will mentor the students through a thorough design process to develop their brand, while also teaching them all they need to know in the kitchen.
As more companies begin to develop community focused businesses (see Panera’s new non-profit store), PieLab stands as an innovative example of the power of design, community and Pie.