It’s a story that’s familiar to a lot of millennials. Guy graduates from college with bachelor’s degree. Guy takes off on self-affirming adventure overseas. Guy returns to hometown a year later. Except instead of resigning himself to graduate school or corporate America, this guy built his professional life around…pies.
Justin Bagley started The Pie Guy—a mobile food cart that serves up traditional Australian pies—after spending a year down under. Single-serving little pies with rich, savory meat fillings are a favorite snack food in Australia and New Zealand, and it wasn’t long after sampling them that Bagley’s wheels started turning.
“Obviously people in Charlottesville are interested in food,” Bagley said. “And there’s an eclectic culture here that bodes well for a business that’s different and good.”
Possessing a degree in psychology and minimal business experience, Bagley turned to his uncle, who owns restaurants in Washington, D.C., for professional guidance. Still, he did have a year in Australia under his belt and a girlfriend who grew up eating the pies and happily volunteered as taste tester and authenticity overseer. Bagley said coming up with the recipes and a production system was the fun part. It was the red tape—zoning laws, health regulations, endless paperwork—that turned out to be most challenging for the new business owner.
As for the pies themselves, you really can’t go wrong with any of the eight varieties currently available, and Bagley said he plans to continue rolling out new styles and weekly specials. Most popular are the Snake Bite, which features chicken and vegetables in a mild green Thai curry sauce, and the bacon, egg, and cheese Breakfast Pie, which is always the first to sell out at the City Market. Bagley doesn’t indulge in the pies as often as he did in the beginning, but his favorite is still the Sydney, with its creamy chicken and mushroom filling. Classic Australian pies tend to cater to the carnivores, but there’s also a tofu version of the Snake Bite, and the Boomerang, with its spicy, hearty, vegetarian quinoa chili, is enough to make any meat lover consider going veggie.
The next hurdle Bagley faces is an application to be on the vendor list at Bonnaroo 2014. After selling $25,000 worth of buttery, flaky goodness at Lockn’ Festival in September, Bagley estimates that he’ll need to prepare and freeze upwards of 30,000 individual pies in time for Bonnaroo in June, which he said will equate to about 5,800 man hours. If all goes according to plan, he and a team of chefs will spend about six months up to their elbows in filling mixes and pastry dough.
“It’ll be the same process as it’s always been,” Bagley said. “We’ll just do it over and over and over.”
When asked where 30,000 pies are going to be stored between now and June, Bagley laughed.
“We have a decent amount of freezer space, but we’re probably going to have to rent some more space,” he said.
And Bonnaroo isn’t the only big event on The Pie Guy’s calendar. Bagley and his crew plan to spend a weekend in March serving up pies at the The Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and two weekends in Indio, California at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach Music Festival.
But don’t worry—while Bagley and his crew are mixing, rolling, cutting, and stuffing tins in preparation for feeding thousands of festival-goers, you’ll still be able to pick up your favorite pie. The Pie Guy’s daytime hours on the Mall have dropped to Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime for the winter, but now when you stumble out of Whiskey Jar at 1am on a Saturday, your friendly neighborhood food cart will be waiting outside Chaps to satisfy that late-night snack craving with a stack of hot, freshly baked pies.
Bagley said he saw the Mall as an untapped late-night market, so you Corner crawlers will have to venture Downtown if you want to get your hands on a pie. But starting next semester, The Pie Guy will be stationed outside the amphitheater during weekday lunch hours—and yes, dining dollars will be accepted.
In addition, you may soon find your favorite pies in nearby grocery stores like Foods of All Nations, and Bagley’s cart is now available for events like graduation parties, high school reunions, and weddings.