How one pie shop is fighting to survive the pandemic.
When Sarah Joe Montana Chavez first visited Pie Town, New Mexico, on family vacations, three pie restaurants were open for business in the small high-desert town. The town’s love of pie was signified by the summertime Pie Town Pie Festival. Pie Town’s appeal was was based on curiosity from quirky travelers. “Folks look at a map and think, oh, Pie Town, let’s check that out and eat a pie in Pie Town,” says Montana Chavez.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic halted mass gatherings and the Pie Town Pie Festival had to be cancelled in 2020. Trepidation lingered for the three pie businesses on whether to open their doors, thanks to the unknown health factors of the virus. After the pandemic hit, two of the three pie shops in Pie Town shuttered, leaving one sole pie shop – the Gatherin’ Place – the last pie shop in Pie Town.
Montana Chavez baked at home for fun prior to moving to Pie Town, but didn’t realize that she would be carrying on a small-town tradition of doing just that: baking pie. A Phoenix, AZ native, depending on the day, Montana Chavez is the baker, shipper, cook, and front of house staff for the last pie shop in Pie Town: Pie Town Pies.
In January 2021 Montana Chavez was folded into her new role as one of the last bakers in Pie Town. She was in between jobs when her stepmother, Sarah Chavez, decided to purchase a historic Pie Town antique shop, the Pie Town Homestead, which is next to the pie shop formerly known as The Gatherin’ Place. Montana Chavez moved to Pie Town to help her stepmother with the antique business, but when Chavez learned of the opportunity to buy the last pie shop in Pie Town next door, she couldn’t resist. Being able to serve travelers pie in Pie Town was the impetus for Chavez to purchase the Gatherin’ Place and keep the last pie shop in Pie Town alive.
Montana Chavez learned all about baking New Mexican pies from the previous baker at The Gatherin’ Place and carries on the unique tradition of home-spun baking. The most popular pie she crafts is the New Mexico Apple Pie, a basic apple pie mixed with green chile and piñon, a treasured Southwestern nut that bursts from clusters of bushy piñon trees across New Mexico each fall.
Montana Chavez says she has noticed an uptick in RV travel with adventurers on their way to California and Nevada. However, Pie Town faces distinct challenges in ramping up tourism because even though comparable towns across the state have faced similar travel fluctuations during the pandemic, Pie Town’s problems lie in its rural, serene nature. “There’s just not too much out here. In Santa Fe, there are a lot of restaurants and places to go, but in Pie Town, there is the RV park and a hotel or two. Having the last restaurant here and keeping it open is what makes Pie Town a place to still stop and visit.”
As the pandemic hopefully turns a tide that welcomes back travelers to Pie Town, Montana Chavez is confident in the leadership that she and her stepmother can provide for businesses development and the community. “My stepmother is big on helping local artists by selling their goods at the Pie Town Homestead. She works to keep everyone involved to help the town stay alive.”