YouTube video sparks run on Patti LaBelle's sweet potato pie

JENNIFER Braxton was on the hunt for one of those Patti LaBelle's sweet-potato pies.

So, on Saturday, after getting off work at 10 p.m., she drove to the Walmart Supercenter on Byberry Road. She walked all around the store but couldn't find one. The next day, she called and an employee answered, "Thank you for calling Walmart. We're out of pies. How may I help you?"

"I have a company potluck coming on Friday and I said I would bring Patti pies," she explained to me later via Facebook. "I hope I can find some by then!"

Good luck with that. Many stores throughout the area, not to mention the country, are completely sold out of Patti LaBelle sweet-potato pies.

"It's like a craze," a clerk at the Walmart on Columbus Boulevard told me about the 8-inch pies that sell for $3.48.

That's an understatement.

It all started Thursday when James Wright Chanel, a Los Angeles-based entertainer, posted a YouTube video of hmself doing a taste test, licking his fingers and bursting into song as he samples "Patti pie," as they're being called, for the first time.

The video, which is laugh-out-loud funny, immediately went viral. Copycat videos began popping up as people did their own tastings. Some have bought stacks of the pies and posted photos of themselves and their hoards on social media.

The next thing Walmart execs knew, they were selling a pie a second. A pie a second? Walmart wouldn't say how many pies have been sold, but judging from that metric, that's a whole lotta pie.

The pie, which first hit store store shelves in September, had been selling well before. Now Walmart is scrambling to meet customer demand.

"We need probably two million pounds of sweet potatoes," said Kerry Robinson, Walmart's vice president of bakery and deli. "They are a special sweet potato that purees really well."

"We hope it's not going to be too long," she added.

LaBelle, who's in the UK, reached out to Wright via telephone. LaBelle also shared the video on her Facebook page.

"She kept thanking me and she just kept telling me how much she loved me," Wright told Fox News. "She just kept telling me to be me, and she was like, 'Boy, you can sing!' "

Yes, it's tasty

Patti LaBelle did her thang all right. Her sweet-potato pies aren't bad. (Walmart sent us one little pie.)

To me, they're as good as supermarket pies get. Maybe even a little better. While the filling was a little sweet for my taste, it's a whole lot lighter than what passes for sweet-potato pie at my house. I did pick up on a slight chemical-tasting aftertaste. But that didn't stop me from grabbing another little piece. And I was impressed with the flaky crust.

Yes, I would definitely buy it.

Kinna Thomas, Walmart's senior buyer for cakes and pies, told me she reached out to LaBelle's representatives in March about collaborating on a sweet-potato pie and heard back the next day. That began a back-and-forth between Walmart bakers and LaBelle as they tried to come up with a recipe suitable for mass production but that also tasted authentic. LaBelle already sells a barbecue sauce at Walmart.

"We worked with her in the making of the pie. We started with a great base recipe," Thomas said. "She would give us feedback back and forth on what she believed the pie should taste like."

"She said, 'You need more cinnamon,' " Thomas recalled. "That was an actual request."

"We had multiple variations that we ran."

Blogger Ben Robinson III was at the Walmart in Cedarbrook Mall over the weekend, and while he waited in line, he watched as a customer service rep "took two calls about those damn pies. The hype is real."

I asked him why he thought that is.

"People are always so quick to run out and cling to what's hot right now, especially if a product is endorsed by a celebrity," said Robinson, who blogs at benthethird.com. "And people trust Patti's reputation as someone who loves to cook. I think many believe that she made these pies herself, which speaks heavily to just how easy we are as a society to follow trends without doing the research for ourselves."

As for me, I've never seen folks act so hype over food out of Walmart. I mean, really, people.

It's pie.

- Daily News wire services contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

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