Deborah Tyler had 300 pie orders to fill in the fall of 2001. The single mother of three had converted her one floor rental into a Department of Health approved commercial kitchen. A New York Times review and a Good Morning America segment were bringing in business from both sides of the Hudson River. It was at the height of her notoriety that Deborah sold her equipment and moved to Cooperstown. Here is the story of the rise and fall and the return of the Pie Lady.
From 1995 until 2001, if you were in the know, or you stumbled upon the hand painted sign that said “Pie” on Piermont Avenue in Nyack, New York and followed the arrow, you would arrive at Tyler’s back porch. If it was a busy day, she might have her youngest daughter Carly under her arm as she took your order. If Apple Pie is the closest thing we have to a national dish, serving the iconic desert from a kitchen door is pure Americana. The scene on the corner of Spear and Burd Street, where Tyler sold her pies, was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Tyler calls her style of baking vintage. When it comes to cookbooks, she prefers the Betty Crocker era. She cuts butter with her hands and uses as few ingredients as possible. Her approach to cooking comes from her family, who emigrated from Europe in the early 20th century and settled in Montana. Baking was practiced as an essential prairie craft: Mondays were for washing, Tuesdays for Ironing, Wednesdays for mending and Saturdays was for baking. Tyler learned to bake from her mother, Maybelle, who was one of eleven children.
When she moved to Burd Street she was on her own with three young children. Baking was a way to earn Tyler some extra money. But as soon as the sign went up on the corner of Piermont and Burd, word of mouth drove business in her direction faster than Deborah could manage. Her brother helped her convert her son Wil’s bedroom into an extra kitchen. Her upstairs neighbor offered additional space.
The renovations and kitchen sharing were all done with the blessing of her landlord, Joe Lagana. Deborah acknowledges without the people of Nyack she would have never found success. The village even gave Tyler her name. She tried in vain to get people to call her business “the pie kitchen.” But from the moment she started selling baked goods from her back porch she would be affectionately known as the “Pie Lady.”
The Pie Lady would eventually become a victim of her own rapid growth. As the orders poured in, she wanted a business partner to appear: someone to handle the administration, leaving her to the baking. But a culinary comrade never emerged. The only thing that arrived was more business. By 2001, exhausted and unable to keep up with the demand, Tyler closed shop and moved to Cooperstown.
Her son Wil, who gave up his bedroom years earlier to allow for kitchen expansion, immediately wanted his mother to reconsider. He took a job in marketing out of high school but his heart was always in the family business. Wil converted his mother’s recipes from index card to computer files. He traveled to Cooperstown for baking lessons and convinced his sister Brianna to help him obtain a home food-processing certificate from the Department of Agriculture for his apartment in Upper Nyack.
Wil and Briana’s efforts were enthusiastically welcomed when baked goods labeled “Pie Lady” were spotted at The St. Ann’s Holiday Bazaar in 2009. Their next step in the rebirth of their brand was a booth at the Nyack Chamber of Commerce’s Farmer’s Market in 2010. Together the siblings were making 30 pies a week and feeling quite proud of the results. They outgrew Wil’s apartment and were working out of rented kitchen space at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, when Deborah came to check on their progress. She was impressed by their zeal, but not as pleased with the product. Since that visit, Deborah has made a weekly trip back to Nyack to oversee production.
After a second successful season at the Farmer’s Market, Wil followed a tip from ACADA’s Jack Dunnigan and found a rental space on North Midland near Nyack High School. Pie Lady and Son now has a staff of five, operates a retail facilitate and sells their goods at several markets throughout the county.
The legacy of neighborhood support is baked into their menu. One item “Mrs. Cook’s Sweet Potato Pie” is named after Burd Street neighbor Elizabeth Cooke. The wife of the late Commissioner of the Nyack Water Department Leonard Cooke, Mrs. Cooke lent the recipe for her namesake pie and helped look after Deborah’s daughter when the line at the back porch kitchen door got too long.
There is nothing secret about Deborah and Wil’s recipe for baking or success. Community support is like yeast, the love of family is the filling and the crust is just the right proportion of flour, water, salt and fat. The reign of the Pie Lady is over: long live The Pie Lady & Son.
The Pie Lady & Son is located at 366 North Highland (9W) in Upper Nyack, near Nyack High School. For more information contact the Tyler’s at (845) 535-3290 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the Pie Lady and Son booth at the Nyack Farmer’s Market Thursdays until November 23, 2012 from 8a until 2p.