If you are traveling the speed limit on Highway 60 in New Mexico, you can pass by in less than a minute. “It’s really pretty, but if you blink, you’ll miss it; you’ve got to keep your eyes open,” said Charity Von Tress.
Charity, a California transplant and owner of Does and Bucks Coffee and Café, is referring to what she now considers her permanent home — Pie Town, an unincorporated community in Catron County with a population of fewer than 200 people. The exit for Highway 60 and Pie Town is at Socorro, about halfway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces. However, once on Highway 60, there is little to see and do other than visiting the Very Large Array radio telescope observatory (currently closed to visitors) and exploring some hiking since Pie Town does sit on the Continental Divide, providing nearby access to the Continental Divide Trail. Yet, this little town has garnered a big reputation, with people traveling from all over the world just to visit.
“They come for the pie,” Charity said. “It’s crazy but they do. They say that whenever they’re traveling, they’ll go a little bit out of their way just to go to Pie Town for the pie.”
A history of pie
Since Pie Town was founded in the early 1920s, it has been associated with pie.
The earliest known pies sold in the area were made by Clive Norman, a World War I veteran who provided supplies to travelers. He eventually started selling dried fruit pies, and before long “Norman’s Place” became known as “Pie Town.”
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Pie Town grew to more than 200 families, with refugees from Texas and Oklahoma establishing homesteads after fleeing the Dust Bowl. Over the years, the Pie Town area became less productive for agriculture and many settlers ended up leaving in the ‘50s. But some families remained.
Over the years, many restaurants selling pie have opened and closed in the community. There have been some close calls and time gaps in between businesses, but people have always pulled through to ensure Pie Town has pie.
Today, the town has just three restaurants: Does and Bucks Coffee and Café, Pie Town Ohana Café, and Pie-O-Neer Homestead. All are within a short walking distance of each other and all offer pies, which never stay on the shelves for too long.
Pie-O-Neer Homestead, originally just Pie-O-Neer, was formerly owned by Kathy Knapp, “The Pie Lady of Pie Town.” Kathy started the café in the ‘90s with her mother, keeping it open for more than two decades. Pie-O-Neer gained national recognition and was featured in several publications and shows, including a documentary, further solidifying Pie Town’s place on the map.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kathy decided to close Pie-O-Neer’s doors in March 2020. She was hoping someone would buy the business and keep the restaurant’s legacy alive. Luckily, Sarah Chavez, who at the time owned another café in Pie Town with her husband, stepped up to the plate.
“(Kathy) had swung by the other café one day and asked if we could talk and we did, and the rest is pretty much history,” said Sarah, a former Arizona resident.
While Kathy gifted Sarah all of her recipes, Sarah made a few changes to the Pie-O-Neer’s menu.
“I do a lot of vintage-style meals now,” Sarah said. “For instance, on Sunday, we do what’s called Miss Mary’s Sunday Dinner, and it’s in honor of Kathy’s mom, Mary Knapp.”
The Sunday dinner is one meal that changes weekly and is served on a vintage metal school tray. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, and the café offers a lot of comfort food items. During the week they serve house-made pot pies, sandwiches, pizza, and more.
One of the café’s top-selling sweet pies is the New Mexico Apple.
When visiting Pie-O-Neer Homestead, make sure to check out the photos by Russell Lee that famously capture Pie Town in 1940.
Info: 575-772-2711 or pieoneer.com
Pie Town Ohana Café
Owned by Brad Brown from Texas and Ngaire Kemp from Hawaii, Pie Town Ohana Café offers both Southwestern and Pacific Islander cuisine. Some of the items on the menu include Kalua pig, egg rolls, quesadillas, and green chile stew. The café, where everything is made from scratch, also offers a wide variety of pies.
“On a daily basis, we have somewhere around 15 varieties available — about a dozen fruit pies and probably four or five cream pies, and Ngaire makes both 10-inch and six-inch pies,” Brad said.
A best seller is the Ohana Pie, made with a sweet cream cheese pineapple filling and a guava/mango/passion fruit and assorted-flavor ganache, topped with pineapple and toasted coconut.
“Everybody loves that pie. It’s not uncommon for me to walk away from a table after I’ve served it, and hear ‘Oh my god,’” Brad said.
Info: 575-772-2700 or pietowncafe.net
Does and Bucks Coffee and Café
Does and Bucks Coffee and Café, owned by Larry and Charity Von Tress, is part coffee bar and part restaurant. It offers smoked barbecue plates including ribs, pulled pork, and chicken.
“Larry and I, we have my son Anthony, who runs the coffee bar, and then our son and daughter-in-law also work here with us, and my mother, who is 84 — she works as a secretary and keeps track of all the receipts and money,” Charity said. “We just enjoy it because we’re still together as a family, but we’re working together.”
Larry, who comes from a family of cooks and bakers, handles the pies. “His key lime pie is famous all over now because people from different countries are coming and trying it,” Charity said.
One of the ideas behind opening Does and Bucks was to help fill in the gaps on the days the other two restaurants aren’t open.
“Now, in Pie Town, you can drive through, and nobody has to think it’s a ghost town,” Charity said.
Info: 575-772-2799 or doesandbucks.coffee
While Pie Town attracts visitors year-round, a big draw is the annual Pie Festival, held on the second Saturday of September. This year, the festival falls on Saturday, September 10. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, this will mark the 40th anniversary of the Pie Festival.
The festival regularly attracts thousands of people and features live entertainment, games, pie eating and pie baking contests, a raffle, a horned toad race, and more. This year, the event kicks off at 8 a.m. with registration for the Pi K Run and ends with a dance at 7 p.m.
“It’s interesting to see so many people gathered in a place where there’s not a lot of buildings,” said Jay Carroll, a founding member of Pie Town Rising Stars, a nonprofit helping to plan the festival. “It’s right on Highway 60, so it’s visible to everybody that passes by, and a lot of people just happen across it that way.”
All three restaurants in Pie Town will participate in the festival, preparing hundreds of pies in advance. “The last Pie Festival, (the restaurants) made over 600 pies,” Jay estimates.
The Pie Festival is a unique attraction in its own right, but what truly makes Pie Town special are the people passing through each day, according to Brad of Ohana Café. Pie Town attracts visitors from all walks of life, including hikers trekking the Continental Divide, cross-country cyclists, and travelers checking off a bucket-list dream.
“They always have interesting stories,” Brad said. “I had some folks in (my café) just a couple days ago from Switzerland. I had someone else in here around the same time from Ireland; it’s amazing where all the people come from.”
For information about Pie Town and the upcoming Pie Festival, visit pietownrisingstars.org.
Story by Alexia Severson | Courtesy photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.
Posted by LasCruces.com