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Buttermilk Pie sells Pastries Nationwide
Fresh Georgia pecans, syrup and sugar simmered into caramel, and a buttery, flaky crust that crumbles in your mouth are the ingredients that have made Amanda Wilbanks’ Caramel Pecan Pie a nationwide favorite.

The Georgia-grown and educated 26-year-old ships her pecan specialty and other delicious filled pastries from her Gainesville business to clients around the country. And the door at Buttermilk Pie is open to sell a slice to passersby lured by the rack of pies at the front counter.

Named for the first pie she made from her mother-in-law’s recipe, Wilbanks’ business is the epitome of locally grown. Locally grown seasonal fruits – apples, peaches, tomatoes – bubble in a substantial pastry made daily in Wilbanks’ Broad Street kitchen (behind Schlotzky’s Deli). The University of Georgia business school graduate grew up in Habersham County where her mother and grandmother’s home cooking graced the family table.

“I grew up with cooking,” Amanda mused in mid-December while arranging delivery of 15 pies to Macon. “I’d always made cobblers,” she said, until her mother-in -law, Sandy, taught her to make pate brisee, a butter-based French pie crust. Pleased with what came out of the oven, she decided to share with her Gainesville neighbors on Blue Ridge Drive. Her husband, Alex, couldn’t let a pie leave the house.

Wilbanks sold her first pie in October 2012 at Gainesville’s Mule Camp Market and sold out of pies at Dahlonega’s Gold Rush Festival the next week. She and Alex pondered, “Maybe we’re onto something.”

“By Christmas, I sold a lot of pies out of the house,” she said. “It kept growing. We went from one oven in the house to three ovens. My husband said maybe we ought to look at getting a space.” With the help of her father, Brent Dalton, who runs a heating and air business, the family set up the bakery in downtown Gainesville. Wilbanks combined her culinary skills and marketing acumen to build the business and spread the word on social media.

She now sells pies locally and nationwide to corporate clients (tech companies, real estate agencies, hospitals, among others) who want to give a sweet thank-you, congratulation, or condolence gift. Plus the walk-in traffic in Gainesville brings in customers craving a piece of pie or a full circle. A slice goes for $4.95, a 5-inch petite pie for $11.19 ($18.95 gift wrapped) and a 9-3/4 inch whole pie for $30-$35.

Wilbanks’ Caramel Pecan, in which she boils the syrup before pouring it into the crust, is the top seller, followed by Buttermilk and Chocolate Chess. Peach Pie, made when the Peach State’s fruit is in season, also ranks high.

Each pie is made fresh that day after Wilbanks arrives around 6 a.m. to work with her crew of 6-15 employees. They fill the day’s crusts with many ingredients Wilbanks buys from Jaemor Farms, a family business in Habersham County. “All the produce is locally grown … in our tomato pie, all the tomatoes, garlic and onions come from Jaemor’s,” she said, as do the sweet potatoes in that autumnal treat. “They taste so much better” Wilbanks said, when the ingredients are grown at nearby farms.

Walk-in customers can grab a cup of coffee supplied by Athens coffee roaster, Jittery Joes. Local companies also do Buttermilk Pie’s packaging and printing. “Even the sign is locally made,” Wilbanks said. She believes investing in Georgia-grown businesses is akin to giving back to your roots.

Wilbanks said that when she graduated from UGA’s Terry School of Business in 2009, she knew she wanted to own a company. “But I never planned to open a pie company … it’s a passion that turned into a career overnight.”

When her days end after clean-up around 8 p.m. she savors the joy from cooking up her own business. “It’s very hands on. I can’t get out of the kitchen. I love it. I love rolling the dough, making the pies. I love the sales aspect.” She shares that love with 3-1/2-year-old son, Austin, who’s growing up in the pie business.

Wilbanks also gives a nod to her father’s entrepreneurial spirit that helped instill her business and marketing skills. “We’re both so very proud of her,” said her mother, Wanda Dalton. “I’m so excited … she’s worked so very hard.”

Asked which of her daughter’s pies is her favorite, she had a ready answer: Caramel Pecan.

Posted Online at www.lakesidenews.com 12/30/13