Above: Kathy Knapp didn't bake or cook when she came to Pie Town in 1995. Photograph by Dan Monaghan.
AFTER A CAREER IN CORPORATE ADVERTISING, Illinois native Kathy Knapp stumbled into Pie Town in 1995 during a family road trip. The mountain village, about 85 miles west of Socorro, had only one café that promised pie. It was locked tight, with a for-sale sign out front. Knapp bought it for her mother to run, but eventually she took it over and, by 2016, had winnowed the menu to nothing but pie. Lots of pie—Apple Cranberry Crumb, Starry Starry Blueberry Night, Peachy Keen, and the all-time favorite, New Mexico Apple with Green Chile and Pine Nuts. The Pie-O-Neer and its ebullient Pie Lady became a destination for lovers of the flaky pastry, and other cafés sprouted up around it to sate their appetites. During what she had thought would be a temporary COVID-19 closure, Knapp chose a new path, away from a town named Pie.
I never had an affinity for making pie—or anything—until I came to Pie Town. I didn’t bake, I didn’t cook. I ordered in, I went out. When my mom had to leave because of her health, it was Learn how to do it or close—and I found I enjoyed how baking made me feel. With trial and error, I accomplished something and people said, “Whoa, that was good.” You get that stroke, you want it again.
I read something about the difference between pie and cake—and I like both. It said that pie is all about goodness and hominess, love. It’s this grandma thing. Cake is about lust: all that buttercream frosting and layers.
I know lots of great pie bakers who all use different shortenings and fats. I eat all their pies and love it, because they make it with the intention of making someone happy. I won’t eat a store-bought pie.
I've seen pies that didn’t look good but tasted amazing.
Pie was a way to get up in the morning and say, “I have something to do. I have to make really good pie.”
I thought a lot about how to restart the café. We could socially distance, put tape on the floor. It would work. But physical contact is part of the experience at the Pie-O-Neer. That table wants you to come over to tell you how good the pie is.
It’s been a good run. I’m looking for the next person to hand the rolling pin to. I’ve been kind of asking the universe, How do I transition?
When I posted the permanent closing on Facebook, there was such an outpouring of gratitude for what we did and how much they’ll miss us.
People were the biggest part of the pie experience. They never failed to make me stop and realize how wonderful the world can be. I’ve been witness to incredible interactions.
Pie has always been a vehicle to bring people together.
I co-own the Silver Creek Inn, in Mogollon, with Stanley King, my life and business partner. We’ll transition to being innkeepers—after a break. For now, we’re enjoying the first summer I can remember having off. We’re taking long walks in the woods.
The inn can host six to ten adults, who maybe want to practice an art, hike, do meditation, take a tai chi class, or learn how to make pie. We’re figuring it out as we go.
I’m also working on a pie cookbook. I think what will happen is that I’m going to become the Pie Madame
There’s still pie in pie town. The Gatherin’ Place is open again, although it’s always good to call ahead.
The experts are saying we’ll be out of this by next summer. That would be a great time for someone to reopen the Pie-O-Neer. The demand will be there.
I'm sad to see the end of an era for the Pie-O-Neer, but I firmly believe someone’s gonna come in and rock that puppy. I just know someone out there is crazy enough to try it.
I’m honored to have been the one with the rolling pin for this long. My mom would be proud, and that’s what matters.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Relive the heyday of the Pie-O-Neer by purchasing the Pie Lady of Pie Town documentary at pieladyofpietown.com.