Bragg's Pie Factory Transforms Its Gallery Space and Brings Back the Pie

At long last, there's pie again at Bragg's Pie Factory.

A new vegan cafe has opened in the very spot out of which the Bragg family originally sold cakes and pies in the '40s and '50s.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 15,000-square-foot cast-in-place concrete Pie Factory was erected in 1947 by the Bragg family. They ran a bakery out of the tiny, pie-wedge-shaped front store at 1301 Grand Avenue; in the cavernous space behind, the family baked pies and cakes and sold them to restaurants, groceries, and other bakeries. The Braggs relocated their business in the late '60s, and the building remained vacant for years following Phoenix's failed urban renewal and the advent of newer freeway systems. Reclaimed by Grand Avenue doyenne Beatrice Moore and her partner Tony Zahn nearly a decade ago, the factory now houses artist studios, a tattoo shop, and a photography collective. Its façade remains largely unchanged: The distinctive glass-brick clerestory windows remain, as does the rounded-glass corner where the bakery once operated. Glass doors have been added on the Grand Avenue exterior; inside, original concrete floors and painted-brick walls remain. The space has operated as a colossal art gallery for several years, overseen by Moore. Recently, she and Zahn split the space into three smaller galleries.

"It just wasn't financially viable to keep it open as one big gallery space," Moore says. "Having three smaller art spaces creates more activity, because more art can be shown by more and different people."

The mainstay among the three smaller galleries is The Frontal Lobe, where Moore plans to host her popular annual Mutant Piñata Show; the other two are for-rent galleries where guest curators will present exhibits throughout the year. The building's makeovers have been part of Moore and Zahn's years-long effort to transform Grand into a trendy arts district, although lately Moore is taking a more relaxed approach to the project.

"I no longer think of myself as a gallery person," she says. "There are so many other projects I want to work on. That said, I want art galleries on Grand Avenue. But I want galleries run by other people, who know what they're doing and can take care of themselves."

Grand Avenue, for years dogged by a dearth of foot traffic, seems poised to reignite, thanks to newly popular retail spots like Jackalope Trading Post (formerly the nomadic Go-Kat-Go and run by retro-kitsch dynamo Brandi Kvetko) and well-loved mainstays like Bikini Lounge, Trunk Space, and Moore's own Kooky Krafts boutique. {9} The Gallery owner Laura Dragon, a recent transplant from New York, has launched a new gallery owners' collective to help promote downtown art and artists.

And then there's that new café.

"We're going to serve pie," says Emily Spetrino-Murtagh, who co-owns the café with her husband, Liam Murtagh, and former Jobot Coffee Shop line cook Dana Stern. "Also comfort food with a vegan and vegetarian twist."

The Murtaghs, who owned candy-shop-and-record-store Sweets and Beats, have created a menu featuring tofu scramble, beet burgers, and flaxseed pancakes — and, always, some sort of healthy version of pie. But perhaps more exciting than the prospect of pie at Bragg's Pie Factory is the Murtaghs' plans to decorate their new restaurant with a shrine to local history — photos of the original Bragg's building will be joined by artifacts from Legend City, The Wallace and Ladmo Show, and old family photographs, Spetrino-Murtagh promises.

"It's a good idea," Moore says. "Because Bragg's is more than just a gallery space with a bakery out front. It's part of our history."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela