Pie Lady of Pie Town Calls it Quits

By Don & Barbara Laine

New Mexico has lost an institution.

Pie-O-Neer cafe in Pie Town, NM
The Pie-O-Neer was a popular spot. © Kelly Gatlin

The Pie-O-Neer Pie Bar in Pie Town, New Mexico, has closed after more than 20 years in business, a victim of the Coronavirus pandemic. The announcement was made by owner Kathy Knapp, according to an article in the Socorro, New Mexico, newspaper “El Defensor Chieftain.” She told the newspaper that she opened the pie shop for the season this year on Pi Day (March 14), but because of the pandemic closed the next day. More on Pi Day below.

A number of RMOWP members will remember Pie Town and the Pie-O-Neer from the 2001 conference of New Mexico Outdoor Writers and Photographers (NMOWP) , a group with which  RMOWP had numerous cross-over members at the time. That conference, organized by Anne Sullivan, a member of both organizations, took place during Pie Town’s annual Pie Festival in September.

Over the years the Pie-O-Neer and Ms. Knapp were featured in numerous articles nationally and regionally, including in Sunset MagazineThe Food Network, and TV’s “CBS Sunday Morning.” Last year, the pie shop was honored by New Mexico Magazine for its chocolate cream pie, naming it the best dessert in the state in the “down-home” category.

Former RMOWP president Kelly Gatlin, of Datil, New Mexico, who served 11 consecutive years as a RMOWP board member and officer, retired from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) after 21 years. The agency operates the Very Large Array radio telescope on the Plains of St. Agustin, halfway between the communities of Magdalena and Datil in west central New Mexico.

Proprietor Kathy Knapp of the Pie-O-Neer cafe.
Kathy Knapp, the Pie Lady of Pie Town for a number of years. © Kelly Gatlin

At the time the Pie-O-Neer opened in the mid-1990’s, Kelly met Knapp and her family when he was stationed at the Pie Town Very Long Baseline Array, one of NRAO’s ten radio antennas. During NMOWP’s conference, we enjoyed a chicken pot pie dinner at the Pie-O-Neer, and Kelly led attendees on tours of both radio telescope sites. (Note: The NRAO radio telescope facility is featured prominently in the 1997 film “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey).

Pie Town, with a population of fewer than 200, sits along U.S. 60, two miles west of the Continental Divide and about 83 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. In the early 20th century a bakery in the community produced very popular apple pies, thus the town’s name.

Kelly told us that at one time there were four cafes in town – two full-service and two pie shops. The Pie-O-Neer, which began as a cafe at the site of an old trading post, had evolved into a pie shop. Then there were just two – The Gatherin’ Place cafe and Pie-O-Neer. Now it’s just the Gatherin’ Place. “Good news is,” Kelly said, “there’s still pie in Pie Town and the Gatherin’ Place sells lots of ’em.”

So, what’s Pi Day? Well, to start with, as any math geek can tell you, pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, any circle, any size, anywhere. After thousands of years of measuring circular objects, this ratio was determined to be a bit more than 3.14159 and on and on ad infinitum. And because it is a constant number, never ever changing, Pi Day is March 14th (3.14). Mathematicians celebrate primarily by eating pie – any kind of pie, from apple to rhubarb to pizza – or consuming any other food beginning with “pi,” such as pineapples and pistachios. (Check out piday.org if you don’t believe us.)