Driving through west Alabama from Memphis to Monroeville, Alabama, my hometown, doesn’t exactly take you near PieLab, but an hour of extra drive time didn’t even phase me after learning about this recent James Beard finalist restaurant, proving “design can change the world”. PieLab started as a pop-up shop in Greensboro, Alabama - the same town that architecture professors Sambo Mockbee and D.K. Ruth started Auburn University’s Rural Studio years ago. The success and heart of Rural Studio’s mission to use design to heal the community have since inspired designers including those within Project M, the creators of PieLab, to do the same. Through selling pie and providing a ‘civic clubhouse’ where ideas are exchanged, the design collective ProjectM wanted to initiate change through design and other unexpected ways.
We were greeted the moment we walked in as they were making more pies in the upfront open kitchen. Fridays were pizza pie days but we went for the dessert pies that they recommended out of the about 8 available– the Irish cheesecake for me and the chocolate walnut pie for Atticus. Fitting to their clubhouse mission, three big community tables filled the second half of the storefront space. When he saw the cool green color of the St. Patrick’s Day themed cheesecake, he requested we make a trade. When he saw the green drink that the gentlemen at our table had, he requested that too which sparked conversation because we had to ask exactly what he was drinking. It was the special lime flavored drink. We then ended up sharing each others dishes as usual, and I really can’t say I could pick a favorite of the two. They were both very delicious.
The interior space and most of the furniture including the movable walls were made from reclaimed material. The design is very similar to the Rural Studio style especially when you see the construction of the table legs. I also loved the edge detail where the wood planks were intentionally left staggered. In the corner of the dining area, a small area was dedicated to more design - PieLab gear such as custom designed t-shirts, tote bags, and posters. Behind the movable storage walls were work stations for those volunteering with HERO, a local non-profit group and current managers of PieLab. Also in the back was the coolest bathroom I have ever seen in a restaurant. Just so minimal, rustic, artsy, and edgy all at the same time. The single vertical pivot door was constructed like a barn door, and at the very end of the narrow room was the graphic framed like a painting above the toilet advising you the flush handle is on the left side.
In the two hours we were there, we witnessed truly diverse sets of people – locals, visitors, young and old – enjoying pie and each others company. We'll surely try to make this our rest stop of choice.
Photos by Sophorn ~ See more photos that didn't make the post here.