Candice Bruinton, a second-year graduate student at the Knight School, found herself last week, like thousands of others, scavenging Wal-Mart’s website, trying to find a store that had a Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie in stock. Raleigh: sold out. Charlotte: sold out. South Carolina: limited supply. Before long, Bruinton found herself driving to South Carolina to claim one of her own.
The pie craze began when singer and YouTube star James Wright posted a video to his YouTube channel on November 12, 2015, showing him eating soul singer Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. The video is filled with dancing shouts and a moment when he is almost rendered speechless before belting out a LaBelle’s “When You’ve Been Blessed” and claiming “you will turn into Patti after eating this.” Within a matter of hours, Wright’s video went viral and within days, Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie sales at Wal-Mart skyrocketed.
Her sweet potato pies, which are available exclusively through Wal-Mart, were reportedly “not selling” before Wright’s video went viral. The recipe was pulled and revamped in a partnership with LaBelle before hitting the stores again for the 2015 holiday season. Now, if you look up Patti LaBelle’s pies on YouTube, you can expect to find countless reviews, copycat recipes, and even videos of people “finding” a pie in store, which is rare. While the in-store price is a mere $3.48, you can find the pies selling online for as much as $45.00.
“The suppliers have been working all weekend,” Kerry Robinson, vice president of the bakery and deli at Wal-Mart told U.K.’s Daily Mail. “We swept everything we had right into the stores to supply the demand, including our Christmas volume, so they have everything we’ve got.”
Though the outlook seemed grim for Bruinton’s search, she was sure she saw pie on the horizon as she crossed the South Carolina boarder and made her way into the Wal-Mart bakery. Looking around, however, there appeared to be no sign of the sweet potato treat.
“I went to an employee,” Bruinton said. “Before I could even start, she knew I wanted the pies.”
Like a back alley deal, the Wal-Mart employee took Bruinton to the side, asking “how many you need?” before ducking behind a counter to reveal not one, but two, of the coveted sweet potato pies.“You can tell I really wanted this pie,” Bruinton said, “because I left the state of North Carolina to find it.”
While Wright’s viral review was obviously dramatized for enjoyment, he did make a clear, more serious comment that caused a flood of positive viewer comments: “Remember, support black people, black businesses.”
The literal overnight explosion of pie sales, due to James Wright’s YouTube energetic review and positive message, not only caught the public’s eye, but also LaBelle’s. The award-winning soul singer, actress and chef personally called Wright to thank him for the kind review of her product as well as supporting her business. In an interview with Chicago’s Fox 32, Wright said that her phone call brought him to tears.
“She kept thanking me and she kept telling me how much she loved me,” Wright said.“She just kept telling me to be me.”
So if the out of stock pies have you feeling like Patti LaBelle, wondering, “why did it end this way?” take heart. Wal-Mart has announced plans to ramp up sweet potato pie production to hopefully allow one to grace a Thanksgiving table near you.