After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ali Rubel is taking her passion for baking to the intersection of Angier Avenue and Driver Street with the opening of East Durham Pie Company’s flagship location.
A linguistics major in college at William & Mary in Virginia, Rubel got her taste for baking after college as a part-time barista at Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. She worked as a media intern with Story Corps at the time but eventually quit her internship to commit to the bakery due to the influence and support of Emily and Melissa Elsen, the bakery’s co-owners.
“I didn’t know a thing about baking and they took a chance on me,” says Rubel.
Once her first child was born, Rubel and her husband looked to move to a city they felt was better suited to raise a family.
They landed in Durham because of its appreciation for agriculture, North Carolina’s leading industry, and community. Because of more lenient state regulations, Rubel has been able to distribute out of her home for the last two years with the help of her husband and one part-time employee. She has built a customer base through selling to consumers at farmer’s markets, other restaurants and direct to homes.
Fundraising for a permanent location provided what she called a “litmus test” to gauge the community’s support for the project. Her July 2016 campaign raised $24,266 from 395 backers with pledges ranging from $1 to $500.
Now, Rubel says her daughters want a dog, “which isn’t conducive with baking,” and the production has outgrown her home operation.
The 407 S. Driver St. location will open new doors for her business, and be an open door for the neighborhood in East Durham.
Rubel regularly attends neighborhood meetings held by groups like Uplift East Durham to build relationships and gain perspective on how she can best serve her neighbors with the bakery.
“Yeah, we are going to be involved,” says Rubel. “This isn’t a ‘destination spot.’ This is a community spot. It’s here for the people who live here and also for the people outside but first and foremost, we have to make sure we’re taking care of our neighbors.”
Part of the community engagement plan is hiring from within East Durham. She says that her time working for Four and Twenty Blackbirds is reflexive of the business she wants EDPC to be.
“After my experience, working with people who took a chance on me, I want to hire people who don’t have that [culinary] background but want to get in on the ground floor and be creative.”
Joe’s Diner, a long-time anchor tenant adjacent EDPC at the Angier-Driver intersection, previously served as a similar space for patrons to gather but is temporarily closed. Rubel hopes that more locally-owned restaurants, specifically minority- and female-owned, can find opportunities to open businesses on the block and breath life back into the once-bustling marketplace.
Gentrification is on the minds of many in the neighborhood, and East Durham is often viewed as an area ripe for revitalization. Community members like Rubel who have a stake in the future of the neighborhood suggest that people get more involved before considering any projects:
“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, East Durham. That’s up and coming.’ Do me a favor. Go to a neighborhood meeting or talk to people in the neighborhood before you launch or get ready to do your thing.”
Construction has already begun on the space but an official opening date has not been announced. The building has sat empty for years and needs considerable upfitting before tenants can begin operations. Rubel says that Summer 2017 is the optimistic timeline.
Laidlaw_East Durham Pie Co_3: Rubel looks inside the future home of East Durham Pie Company. Photo by Kaylee Sciacca.