When Kathy Knapp closed the Pie-O-Neer and put it up for sale in March 2020, the Catron County wide spot known as Pie Town was left with a single pie source, The Gatherin’ Place.
She hoped that someone would buy the establishment and continue its storied legacy. Months went by without a serious offer.
And then when the owners of The Gatherin’ Place decided to retire at the end of 2020, it looked like tiny Pie Town would be left pie-less.
The thought of a town named after pie would be bereft of its namesake compelled Sarah Chavez, a pie baker at the Gatherin’ Place, to make a decision.
“When Mike and Jeanine Fowler made the decision to retire that would’ve meant there is no pie in Pie Town,” Chavez said.
To keep the pie in Pie Town, she and her husband, Danny, acquired The Gatherin’ Place in January 2020. “We changed the name to Pie Town Pies earlier this year.”
Fast forward to July, and a chance conversation between Chavez and Knapp developed into an agreement for Chavez to re-open the Pie-O-Neer.
“Kathy and I spoke. I did a little soul searching,” Chavez said. “So, I thought about it. My husband still thinks I’m crazy but, you know, that’s what keeps it all exciting. When we really started talking about it I said well, why don’t we do this.”
She had already started making changes at the Gatherin’ Place, changing the name, for instance to Pie Town Homestead to incorporate the vintage and second-hand business next door, and recruiting friends and neighbors to work part-time.
“I am fortunate to have a small army of local pie bakers who will work at one, or both places,” she said. ” I do not take it for granted. It is going to be a tough transition in the sense of living up to the reputation created for that little spot, the Pie-O-Neer. We will bake pies for both places at the Pie-O-Neer. But the food will stay down at Pie Town Pies, now Pie Town Homestead.”
First and foremost, Chavez said, is that Knapp has gifted her with all of her pie recipes.
“My heart has been from the very first to ensure that all the recipes stay as is,” she said. “The goal is to keep a real cool spin on it. We’re adding a wonderful coffee and barista service to it to expand a little and we’ll have cute little snacky items. But otherwise, we are keeping everything the same at the Pie-O-Neer. Recipes, the style of pie.”
Chavez said she likes to envision people coming in and staying awhile.
“When we moved here from Arizona I wanted something peaceful like you see on The Andy Griffith Show where folks come in and sit around. Like the barbershop in Mayberry,” she said.
“We’re definitely coming together. It’s very exciting to see everyone so passionate about it.”
Pie Town has been known for pies since the 1920s, when World War I veteran Clyde Norman began selling dried apple pies at a little stand at the Continental Divide on U.S. 60, then known to travelers as the Coast to Coast Highway. A small community sprang up and residents started campaigning for a post office in “Pie Town.” However, the U.S. Postal Service felt the name was beneath the dignity of the department, but locals persisted and in 1927 the name Pie Town became official.
Over the last two decades, Pie Town, New Mexico has seen a resurgence of popularity.
The eateries have been featured in travel documentaries and national publications, such as Smithsonian Magazine.
The Smithsonian article profiled some of the history of Pie Town through the 1940 lens of photographer Russell Lee. The story also looked at some of the old-timers in the area, as well as Kathy Knapp’s Pie-O-Neer.
Some 600 Russell Lee photographs of Pie Town are archived at the Library of Congress, and seven of those are included in the article, one featuring the late “Pop” McKee.
The photographs captured the daily life of Pie Town residents in 1940.
It wasn’t long before vacationers – as a direct result of the article – begin planning their trips deliberately so they can drop by Pie Town to see what it’s all about.
One of the more unusual incidents concerned a cross-country drive just for pie.
“A man who lived in Oregon read the article and wanted to come,” said a former pie baker. “But his wife didn’t want to, so he said he just got in his car and drove down. He came in and ordered a meal and piece of pie, and then turned around and drove back to Oregon.”
Chavez said also in the works is expanding the vintage shop in the garage adjacent to Pie Town Homestead.
“It’s an old vintage double door garage building. It’s sort of a passion project to get that up and going and it’s got a really cool look to it,” she said.
Chavez spends her free time going through recycled stuff that people just don’t have a use for.
“I’m a picker. I have no shame. I’m a dumpster diver. The people at the Quemado dump laugh at me when they see me coming
,” she said “We found an old vintage street light, a red-yellow-green street light, that someone had just thrown out. And I’m like, are you kidding me?
“We’ve done a lot of research for folks, too,” she said. “If they have something they’re not sure of, we’ll get out there and research if it does have some value. So, we can get some money in their pockets.”
Over at The Pie-O-Neer, Chavez has plans of turning the small room next to the dining area into e a full-time music room. “A unique nook area where people can have some fun.
“Right now we’re looking to get a piano in there,” she said.
With a target opening date of the first weekend in August, Knapp said customers are assured of the same Pie-O-Neer pies that have made the restaurant famous.
“Sarah brings her love of baking and serving others to the Pie-O-Neer, and I couldn’t be happier to hand over the rolling pin,” she said. “She’ll continue using our recipes and we’ll assist through transition, but she’ll take it from there.”
Knapp said the revitalization of the place takes her back to the late 1990s.
“I see myself – about 20 years ago – in Sarah,” she said. “Same drive and determination to make people happy. Her professional food-service background and ability to visualize the future is exactly what the Pie-O-Neer needs going forward. My partner Stanley King and I are excited about the possibilities she’ll explore.”
She said Chavez is already an experienced pie-baker.
“Her wonderful team of experienced local ladies makes this all the more exciting,” Knapp said.
“Updates will be posted on the Pie-O-Neer Facebook page and website. We hope everyone will show Sarah the same ‘Pie love’ they showed us because it’s what makes the pies so good!”