After “preaching from the pulpit of pie” for nearly seven years, Pie Chest owner and baker Rachel Pennington, alongside her business and romantic partner, will be closing the Charlottesville business.
The Pie Chest announced on Instagram this past Sunday it would be closing for good on March 14, so-called Pi Day.
Pennington told The Daily Progress she plans to close both the Downtown Mall and High Street locations and pursue a doctorate in creative writing and public theology. Her partner, meanwhile, is already pursuing an accounting degree and has a new job at the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville.
“It’s been a hard decision, because when you do something like this, you’re doing it in service to other people,” Pennington said. “At what point is that calling pushing up against your own personal goals and dreams that you feel you can’t fully pursue? I think that’s the point that we’re at, and it’s been a very beautiful, amazing thing.”
Lone Light Coffee, which operates alongside the Pie Chest in the space at 119 Fourth St. NE, will take over the entire real estate footprint.
Pennington said she and her partner began “preaching from the pulpit of pie” in 2015. She said their mission was to sell pie, but their “unintentional dream” was for the Pie Chest to be a safe space for people of all backgrounds and identities in the city.
The Pie Chest hosted Trans Nights during Pride month and offered itself as a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community, Pennington said.
A few years after opening, the shop’s role as a safe haven would be tested during the chaos, violence and civil unrest of 2017.
That summer, Pennington said, she opened the doors of the Pie Chest not just to customers but to anyone looking for a space to meet or decompress away from the rallies, protests and seemingly constant tension downtown.
“When all of the things happened in 2017, we were designated as a safe space by Black Lives Matter so that people could come when [things] hit the fan during the KKK rally that happened in July of that year on the courthouse square and the alt-right rally that happened in August,” Pennington said.
Pennington said 2017 cemented the Pie Chest’s status as more than a symbolic safe space, but as a shelter from actual violence.
“My favorite day as the Pie Chest owner was the day after the [Unite the Right] rally,” Pennington said. “There were tanks and snipers and every reporter from every news station that you could think of was using our shop and assembling all around us. We had groups of people that came in to just be together, to hug, to cry, to embrace one another.”
Pennington attended a seminary in the early 2000s. But after graduating, she said she found her church and her personal calling at the Pie Chest.
It survived KKK rallies and violent protests, but COVID changed things for good.
While Pie Chest employees fulfilled only takeout orders for more than two years during the pandemic and only opened the store to indoor seating this past fall, it wasn’t COVID’s impact on foot traffic or customer orders that changed Pennington’s mind about the business.
Like so many others, Pennington said the pandemic made her and her partner reconsider their lives and their life goals.
With the leases at both the Fourth Street and High Street locations coming up, she said they decided to close shop and seek happiness in the next chapter of their lives.
Pennington said she hopes Lone Light will continue her “unintentional dream” and operate the coffee shop as a safe space.
“I don’t think I should take the credit for the biggest safe space in the city,” Pennington said. “But I know that it did mean that for a lot of people. I would hope that people will still feel safe and comfortable in the shop with it being Lone Light.”
In the meantime, Pennington said she is excited to get back to cooking for friends and loved ones, as opposed to the daily grind of owning and operating a small business.
She said she also plans to write a hybrid memoir and cookbook as her creative writing thesis, and hopes to market it to the public after submission.
Pennington will say goodbye to the Pie Chest at her final Pie Chest Academy course in April. Those interested in joining the class can email or call the Pie Chest. A formal registration link will be posted on the Pie Chest website in February.