A Pie Story
November 18, 2015 Leave a comment
A lowly, largely-ignored Walmart pie has now turned into one of its best-sellers. Singer James Wright posted a review of the$3.48 Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie, released to Walmart stores in September, and the video racked up millions of views within days. Now, the pie is hard to find in actual stores, and some people are turning a profit by selling the pies for as much as $40 on eBay.
In the video, Wright breaks into song after tasting the pie (and he’s a great singer), speaks to the pie, and claims that you will “turn into Patti” once you too have eaten the pie. Now, Walmart is struggling to keep the pies in stock. “We are working very hard with our supplier to try and produce more product,” says Kerry Robinson, the company’s vice president of bakery and deli goods. “We’re in the process of securing another 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes.”
So why the sudden need for these specific pies? There are other popular seasonal options, like pumpkin and pecan. But LaBelle’s pie has more cultural significance: Syreeta Gates, a hopeful pie-purchaser, says that the pie is really about celebrating black culture. “I’m sure a lot of our grandmas can make sweet potato pies that are equivalent, if not possibly better, than Patti LaBelle’s pies,” she says, “but this is the first time in a real way that the community–black people, or people of color–have communed together around food via the Internet.” Gates adds that buying the pies feels like “breaking bread” together with the community.
Getting to participate in something of such social value feels to Gates like Thanksgiving, like a treat.
Soraya Nadia McDonald, a reporter from The Washington Post decided to try an experiment. She called her local Walmart store to ask if they had the now-famous sweet potato pie. Before McDonald even finished her question, the employee replied, “The sweet potato pie? No, we’re sold out. You’re the 79th person to call today asking about the pie. Yesterday it was even worse!”
Patti LaBelle placed a personal call to Wright to thank him for the video. “She kept thanking me and she kept telling me how much she loved me and she just kept telling me to be me,” Wright said. “She was like, ‘boy, you can sang!’”