entertainment

Patti LaBelle pies selling like hot cakes

Mister Mann Frisby, for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Updated: Monday, November 23, 2015, 2:09 PM

Patti LaBelle performs onstage during Angel Ball 2015 hosted by Gabrielle's Angel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on October 19, 2015 in New York City.

Walmart is doing the math and by all indications the square root of pie is the correct answer.

Sweet potato pie, that is.

Thanks to Philly's own songbird Patti LaBelle and one of her biggest fans, the retail giant is nearly sold out of the popular holiday dessert, which bears her name. The Walmart in Cheltenham even posted multiple signs at its entrance telling shoppers the pies were sold out. A sinfully delicious frenzy has been created by way of nutmeg, butter, sugar and a hilarious viral Internet video.

It all began on Nov. 11 when mega LaBelle fan James Wright posted a video on his Facebook page that showed him tasting the sweet potato pie for the first time. The Los Angeles man, rocking a bedazzled baseball cap and oversized frames, began literally singing the praises of the pie by breaking into snippets of LaBelle classics "On My Own," "If Only You Knew," and "Lady Marmalade." And he can really sing. To date the video has more than 10 million views and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx has hosted him for dinner.

"James Wright, who is now my new best friend, puts up this video and he was singing my praises and singing better than me and he was animated and beautiful and now I'm just taking it all in," said LaBelle. "I am truly blessed by this."

The singer's culinary prowess is no secret. With multiple cookbooks to her credit and a line of sauces and seasonings, the 71-year-old has kept just as busy on the burners of her stove as she has center-stage belting out notes.

And now, the demand for her traditional sweet potato pie is literally coming to her front door.

"They're coming up to my gate because I guess they think I'm selling pies in the yard," said LaBelle of eager dessert seekers who stopped at her Wynnewood home last week. "If I had any in the house, I would sell them for six or eight dollars and give the money to the homeless. It's crazy, I hear people are even selling them on eBay."

And it's true. A quick glance on the site saw the pies, which retail in store and on Walmart's website for $3.48, being sold for upward of $59.95 per pie.

With so much fuss about the mouth-watering dessert, does she feel some type of way that her booming pie success could possibly overshadow anything she has accomplished musically?

"I have these pies and they are a hit and I haven't had a hit record in some time," said LaBelle.

"But this is a wonderful thing. The record sales will come again one day and then I will compare notes. I've sold enough in my day, but now it's about the pies."

For nearly two weeks, it has been a whirlwind of interview requests and calls about pie for a woman who is already quite accustomed to media fanfare.

Since Wright's initial posts, thousands of other videos have popped up on the social media platforms of everyday people and celebrities alike tasting the pies on camera and giving their feedback.

Laverne Cheeseboro, 39, of Southwest Philadelphia, said that she doesn't typically purchase boxed pie but decided to try it because she is a huge fan of the singer.

"I warmed it up and I could taste the nutmeg, the butter and the sugar," said Cheeseboro, owner of Heavenly Made Creations Family Daycare. "I like to make my own, so it's hard for someone to sell me sweet potato pie, but it was really good and definitely worth all the hype."

According to Walmart spokesman Scott Markley, the pies have hit all kinds of high notes to the tune of one pie being sold per second for 72 hours following the upload of Wright's video.

Searches on Walmart.com for the pie are up by 2,000 percent as well. The only food item more searched than "Patti LaBelle pie" on the company's site is the word "turkey."

"We're not actually sold all the way out," said Markley. "We are in the process of shifting pies from where we have more to where there is no availability.

"Since September when they were put in stores, they have already been selling very well. The plan was for them to also be included in the holiday supply, but now we are in the process of securing two million pounds of California sweet potatoes to make more. They should be in very soon."

Keeping with the hilarity of Wright's initial post, social media has kept it going with numerous fan-created photo memes that feature tight- jawed icons such as Aretha Franklin, Cissy Houston, and Dionne Warwick mocking and disapproving of LaBelle's pies.

She chuckled when asked who would win in a cook-off among her, Gladys Knight and Franklin.

"Aretha would probably outcook me and Gladys," she said. "She's been cooking longer than both of us and she has more experience. I think she might have some tricks with the pots that I don't have. We did Oprah a long time ago - me, Gladys and Phylicia Rashad - and Aretha said she cooked her spaghetti with ham hocks."

Heading into the holiday season, the singer is optimistic about the future of her brand. She said her goal is to be a major player in the food industry.

"If Paula Deen can do it," she said, "then why, oh why, can't I?"

Mister Mann Frisby, for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Read full story: Patti LaBelle pies selling like hot cakes