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Amanda Wilbanks, owner of Gainesville’s Southern Baked Pie Company, won the grand prize in UGA’s 2016 Flavor of Georgia Contest with her Caramel Pecan Pie.

And luckily for local pie fans, Wilbanks plans to open a shop at Buckhead Commons on Peachtree Road this summer, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Tuesday. She said she has a target date of sometime between late June and mid-July.

Wilbanks, 28, has always loved baking. About four years ago, she started baking homemade pies in her home for family, friends and beyond. As word of mouth spread, demand grew for her sweet and savory pies.

By the end of the year, she had three ovens in her home. And in the month of December 2012, she ended up baking 500 pies, including many of her Caramel Pecan Pie (which has more than 1/2 pound of Georgia pecans in every pie) as well as other pies: apple, chocolate, coconut.

She saw the demand for her pies as a sign, she said, to open a pie shop in Gainesville, which she did in 2013.

The award, mostly for prestige, comes with business perks such as a free annual membership for Georgia Grown, a marketing and economic development program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the grand prize, Wilbanks also won first place in the Confections Category. 

The annual contest, held at Georgia Railroad Freight Depot in Atlanta and conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is a chance for food businesses to showcase their new products. A team of food industry experts and grocery buyers chose Wilbanks’ Caramel Pecan Pie as the best of 33 finalists. They rated the products on qualities including innovation, use of Georgia theme, market potential and flavor.

Over the past decade, the contest has grown in scope and prestige but is considered a premier testing ground for both small, upstart food companies and more established products sold at major retailers including Whole Foods and Earth Fare.

The finalists, who passed the first round of judging, were selected from a field of more than 135 products in 12 categories.

Other winners include Beautiful Briny Sea, Pocketful of Starlight Vanilla Sugar, from Atlanta, and Revolution Gelato (no relation to Revolution Doughnuts), also out of Atlanta.

The following is a list of awards:

Grand Prize winners and Confections: Southern Baked Pie Company (formerly Buttermilk Pie Company), Caramel Pecan Pie, Amanda Wilbanks, Gainesville.

People’s Choice Award: Carroll’s Sausage and Meats, Medium Smoke Link Sausage, Johnny Walker, Ashburn.

Barbecue Sauces: Joe Kem’s BBQ, Joe Kem’s Barbecue Sauce, Joe Kem Lacey, Moultrie.

Beverages: Paulk’s Pride 100% White Muscadine Juice, Muscadine Products Corporation, Erin Boettger, Wray.

Dairy Products: Nekkid Espresso Dairy-Free Gelato, Revolution Gelato, Jared Olkin, Atlanta.

Honey: Bruce’s Nut N Honey Farm/The Honey Shack, Papa’s Private Selection Honey 100% Pure, Raw, Unfiltered; Ben Bruce, Homerville.

Jams and Jellies: Wisham Jellies, Wild Mayhaw Pepper Jelly, Eric Wisham, Tifton.

Marinades, Sauces and Rubs: The Salt Table, Leek, Chive and Onion Dip and Seasoning Blend, David and Carol Legasse.

Meat and Seafood: Hunter Cattle Company, Hot Georgia Night Sausage, Del Ferguson, Brooklet.

Miscellaneous: Beautiful Briny Sea, Pocketful of Starlight Vanilla Sugar, Atlanta.

Salsas, Chutneys and Condiments: Abby J’s Gourmet, Abby J’s Blackhawk Field to Fork Sweet Fire Pickles, Abby Jackson, Clarkesville.

Snack Foods: Marsh Cabin Bakery, Kim’s Cheese Straws — Pecan Cheddar, Kim Kaiser, Statesboro.

Posted Online 3/15/16