Kathy Knapp couldn’t believe there was no pie when she and her family drove to Pie Town, N.M., while camping in nearby Cibola National Forest. She remedied that in a big way.
Knapp recalls how she and her family tired of camp-stove fare and drove to Pie Town. They found a rickety antique store with two signs in the window. One sign read: “There used to be pie in Pie Town, but there ain’t none no more.”
The town that got its name from an early settler’s dried apple pies was pie-less.
“I thought, no pie in Pie Town? What’s wrong with America?” she recalls.
The other sign read: “For Sale.”
Knapp and her family bought the pie shop, and she left behind a successful radio production business in 1994. Nowadays, the aroma of home-baked pies made with fresh local produce wafts from The Pie-O-Neer Café. There’s cherry, apple, strawberry, rhubarb, coconut cream, pecan, walnut, and more.
Pie Town is surrounded by the Cibola National Forest in pinon-juniper country, windswept and exposed at 8,000-foot elevation. It’s a rugged, sparsely populated land. If you include the surrounding area, the population is about 75. There’s a post office, a few houses, and the Pie-O-Neer Café.
Knapp quickly realized the community needed a full-fledged restaurant and drafted her mom, Mary Munden, who once ran a restaurant with Kathy’s grandmother, to manage the place. Knapp’s teenage daughter, Wendi Schweiger, pitched in to wait tables, wash dishes, and bake.
The Pie-O-Neer Café soon became the informal gathering place for the entire community. Knapp organized a softball tournament, open mike nights, and hosted meetings.
“The pie shop gives me someplace to go and chat. I’ve been in there with people from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and other places. I ask them, ‘Where’d you hear about this place?’ They’ll say, ‘In Germany.’ And, of course, she’s got some great pie,’’ says Pat Hutton, a descendent of the first homesteaders in Pie Town.
Mary Hudson says Pie Town wouldn’t be the same without Knapp and her café.
“She taught me how to make pie—my crusts were awful,’’ Hudson says. “I think this little pie place up here has kind of made Pie Town. There have been other cafés around, but this one is different. When you walk in, it’s a nice atmosphere, mostly because she’s all bubbly and happy.’’
But in 1998, her mother moved to a lower elevation for medical reasons, and Knapp’s 21-year-old daughter left for college. Suddenly, Knapp was running the restaurant single-handedly. Overwhelmed, she jumped at the chance to lease the café to her head cook, who planned to buy it in a year.
“I was going to go to college, pursue the photography that I thought I’d have time to do when I moved here.”
As it turned out, Knapp decided to stick with pies over college, so she quit school but still pursues photography whenever possible.
During summer months, Knapp fills her pies with produce from local gardens.
“People bring berries, apples, apricots—whatever they’re growing—and I swap them a pie,” she says. “Last summer, the elk ate all the rhubarb, so we were a little short on rhubarb pies.”
The townsfolk are willing to pitch in to keep their pie.
“When there are a lot of cars outside, people say, ‘Let’s see if Kathy needs help.’ They’ll bus tables, take orders, and try to figure out how to run the cash register—while I’m in the back rolling out pie crusts and flipping burgers. Sometimes I just cry with gratitude,” Knapp says.