TLDR; yay, it's the five year anniversary of Dale's Fried Pies, so we did a photoshoot lovingly spoofing the first Dale's Fried Pies publicity shoot in 2012. it's all a big self-congratulatory metaphor about small business ownership.
I launched Dale's Fried Pies in August of 2012 when I found myself bored and a little depressed at my job. I didn't feel challenged. I didn't feel like there was room for me to grow. I didn't feel like my most unique skills were aligned with how I was spending my hours and days. Annie Dillard's quote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" sent shivers down my spine. I didn't want to spend my life the way I was spending my days.
So, I did what any reasonable person without food service experience or knowledge of how to run a business would do- I hatched up a plan to start a food truck. Me and every other person frustrated with her day job in 2012.
I started as small as I possibly could, with a homebuilt adult-sized lemonade stand, a cool logo, and a few good pies. I kept my day job and figured I'd test my idea at local farmer's markets and festivals and go from there. Luckily for me, my husband is a photographer, so I gathered a few friends together and we did a sweet little photoshoot in vintage dresses as we staged a fried pie tea party in the middle of a field. It was all very cute and fit right into the nostalgic, wholesome vibe I was going for. It made for a great-looking website right off the bat. I looked far more legit than I actually felt. I launched the site, went to market, and crossed my fingers. And people started buying pies. And pies. And pies. And pies.
About a year in, I had saved enough money to finally buy the little trailer that now serves as my mobile kitchen. I did it! I got the food truck (ok, trailer, but close enough) I'd been dreaming of all those days I was stuck behind a desk. I launched a Kickstarter campaign to help me remodel it to fit my needs and was blown away when I hit my goal in two days. It was all happening. I wasn't making enough money to feel secure with quitting my job, but I was starting to see that maybe that was coming- I sure hoped so, because running the business in addition to working my day job 40 hours each week was starting to take its toll.
And then I got fired. My boss was cool about it. He said I'd been slacking and it was clear I didn't really want to be there. His exact words: "I think you're just much more invested in the pies at this point." I had to admit that he was spot on.
It turns out that abject terror is a great motivator. Petrified that now there was really no turning back, I started selling at five farmer's market a week, pushing catering services for weddings and other events, and signing up for any festival within shooting distance, no matter how large or small. Over the next few years I slowly grew, but it never felt fast enough. And I was starting to get tired. I ran into obstacle after obstacle- issues with getting my trailer up and running, issues with renting kitchen space, managing my schedule with the side jobs I took on to make ends meet, and the most common ailments of all small business owners: a (sometimes severe) lack of time and money.
I seriously thought about giving up. More than once. More than twice. I fantasized about that desk job I was so ready to leave. Having someone else pay me more money than I was making for less work than I was doing (and doing so reliably every two weeks, which is more than I could say for myself as a boss) sounded pretty great.
But some combination of determination, pride, momentum, support and real love for this thing I had created kept me at it. Because, of course, the job is not without its perks. I've met countless people through this gig, many of whom are now dear friends. I've been able to creatively collaborate with people I admire. I've bartered pies for more cool things and experiences that I can recount. And I've learned so much. I learned you CAN make 5,000 pies in one week. I learned how to be firm in valuing my time and talent. I learned how to back up a damn trailer, which should shock anyone who's seen me behind the wheel of a car. I learned how to apologize to clients when I was in the wrong and stand up for myself when I wasn't. I learned that cute photoshoots and cool logos might be great for your website, but to succeed you need a hell of a lot more than panache. You have to be prepared to kick total ass.
Slowly things got better. I got my own kitchen at The Central Collective, where I now spend my days making pies and pursuing another love of mine- building a creative community space in North Knoxville. I ship the pies nationwide and a couple of restaurants keep them on their menus. I cut out the things that took too much time or made too little money. It seems to be working. For the first time since this all started, I'm feeling (somewhat) calm, (relatively) secure, and (sometimes) well-rested. I can't believe how lucky I am. I don't have it all figured out, and there's always the fear that it could all collapse at any moment, but for now, I have no complaints.
Pardon me if this is all a little self-indulgent. But every small business owner will tell you that as great as being your own boss sounds, it can get pretty gnarly. You won't even have to ask them, they'll just talk about it all the time to anyone who will listen, or if they're the quiet type, you'll see it in their simultaneously glazed over and panicked eyes. So to make it here is an important accomplishment to me, and one that I want to celebrate. My husband once paraphrased a Bob Dylan quote about how you should really take time to relish hitting a milestone. It's too easy to just keep going and not take it in (especially when you have a business to run or a Nobel prize to win). Dylan said to go buy yourself a sundae and celebrate. Except, I actually don't think he did. I just googled every combination of "Dylan," "success," "ice cream" and "celebrate" and I'm pretty sure he never said that. But it's a nice sentiment.
So, when my friend Lila (in whose backyard I threw the DFP launch party five years ago, and who appeared in the original 2012 photoshoot) suggested that we do an anniversary shoot, it seemed like a great way to celebrate. I thought back to an idea I had for a zombie photoshoot when I first launched my mobile kitchen. I pictured defending it from zombies, while recreating similar vignettes from the original shoot. At first I didn't even realize what an apt metaphor the whole thing was. In the first photoshoot it's all saccharine sweetness and (somewhat naive) optimism and pretty dresses, which makes for a good picture. In our second shoot, we've been through some shit- but that makes for an even more interesting picture. The cuteness is still there, but it's eclipsed by the large and small battles we've fought to stay afloat the past five years, and the strength we feel in that. We, because there's no way I could have survived five years without the support of so many friends, family members, customers, employees and mentors. Even when they didn't know it, they were fighting my battles with me.
Who knew making pies was so similar to killing zombies? (And yes, I know the zombie thing is kind of played out, but give me a break, I thought of it back in 2013).
If you want to celebrate with me, we're throwing an anniversary party on Saturday, August 19th from 1-4pm at The Central Collective. We'll have free pies and Dale’s Pale Ale until we run out, live music, giveaways, games, and DFP swag. Just don't bring any zombies with you, or you know what'll happen.