Chocolate meringue, coconut cream, buttermilk, pecan, cherry, apple. Are you craving a sweet slice of pie yet?
Three local families have made baking pies a part of their daily routine. One turned heirloom recipes into a successful small business. Another transformed an aging, traditional bake shop into a full-line, retail bakery while two out-of-towners made Amarillo home as they have taken over the reins of a beloved, artisan bakery.
Drool over the delicious pies in the gallery, plus take a look at our behind-the-scenes photos in Extras.
In the Huffaker household, baking pies is not just a Sunday afternoon pastime; it’s an around-the-clock profession. Using her mother’s recipes, Jueleda “Skeeter” Huffaker and her family have built Biti Pies, a business that has proved it’s anything but small. During the late 1980s, Skeeter and her youngest daughter, Michel, nicknamed The Little Biti Girl, would bake pies at their home in Sundown while the three other children attended school. They made the miniature desserts in their kitchen and sold them to local convenience stores, never fathoming their future popularity.
“They took off,” Skeeter exclaims. “We couldn’t make enough. We did it for fun, but it turned into a big thing.”
In 2000 the family moved to Spearman and Skeeter, following in her mother’s footsteps, opened a restaurant, The Panhandle Diner, and was able to produce the pies there. Six years later, the family purchased an old home off Sixth Street in Amarillo and transformed it into a bakery. But at first, things weren’t easy as pie, Skeeter says.
“Nobody knew what it was,” she says of the shop when it opened in 2007. But today, “everybody in Amarillo now knows what a Biti Pie is. We’ve come a long way.”
Skeeter, along with the rest of Biti Pies’ baking crew that includes her sister-in-law, Robin Vigliano, her daughter, Toi Key, and her son Aaron’s wife, Cristina, arrive to the bakery between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Preparing an average of 600 to 700 pies daily, which involves making the dough, meringue and everything in between from scratch, is what Toi describes as “Huffaker hard.” Despite the long, tedious hours, they treasure spending time together and believe in their product.
“If you do something you really like you never have to work a day in your life… We all get along and everyone cares about the quality so I couldn’t find better employees,” Skeeter says as she watches the heirs of Biti Pies artfully sculpt meringue over pie crusts. “And in the future it will be theirs.”
Long before Skeeter and her husband, Mike, began the business, their son, Aaron, realized the potential of the pies when he and a group of kids in Spearman sold them to raise money to build a skate park.
“I don’t eat [the pies] very often but when I do, I remember why people buy them,” says the operations manager. “Whenever I eat one, I say, ‘that’s better than I remember it being.’ When you take it bite it’s like, ‘Ahhh.’”
Skeeter says she isn’t surprised the menu of coconut cream, chocolate and lemon meringues, pecan and buttermilk pies is a hit around the Panhandle.
“They’re quality, they’re homemade,” she states. “They remind you of what your grandma used to make. A lot of people come up and they always whisper, they’ll go, ‘These taste like my mom’s or my grandmama’s,’ but they always whisper like they’re telling something they’re not supposed to say.”
For Skeeter, it’s not just about making a profit and satisfying customers, but is rather something deeper.
“I’m just trying to preserve the art of baking,” she says as she smooths icing over freshly-baked pastries. “People don’t bake like they used to.”
Village Bakery Café
Before moving to Amarillo in 2009, Gretchen Anthony already owned her own bake shop in Palmer Lake, Colorado. The single mother of three starting out selling rum cakes at craft fairs and soon began delivering custom orders to local businesses after people recognized her talents in the kitchen. After running her business out of a church, Gretchen took a chance and opened Bodhicitta Bakery. The Fort Worth area native and her husband, Jason, were content until the day Village Bakery Café owners, George and Phyllis Enloe, relayed some exciting news to the couple.
“I wanted to get my foot back in Texas for many, many years, and when they contacted us and said that they were retiring, we jumped on it,” Gretchen exclaims, a grin spread across her face.
Gretchen admits operating a bakery in the health-conscious state of Colorado was a pie in the sky venture, making the opportunity to move back to the hearty state of Texas that much more tempting.
“They would rather have granola than a cream pie,” Gretchen deems of Coloradans. “Here, people are more excited and it’s nice to see people really excited about your food.”
Before obtaining full ownership in July of the bakery nestled in Wolflin Village, Gretchen and Jason were partners with the Enloes for two years, working alongside them, learning the business. Jason considers himself a jack of all trades and has held a range of jobs from a facilities manager of a gymnastics center to a bartender, so becoming a business owner and baker wasn’t that much of a stretch. Gretchen claims he now bakes bread better than she does.
While Gretchen has honed her baking skills, she says her creations have not always been successful. Recalling the first apple pie she made Jason, his favorite, Gretchen says she followed the recipe religiously, despite misgivings of it calling for half a cup of lemon juice. The result: a bitter, soggy apple pie.
“At that point I was just like I’m going to cook with my heart and my mind,” she declares. “If half a cup of lemon juice sounds excessive in the recipe for an apple pie, then I’m going to have to go with my gut on that one. Learning to bake was a process of learning and figuring out.”
Today, however, Gretchen has baking apple pies down to an art; the French Apple Pie and Mile High Caramel Apple Pie are proof.
Since taking over Village Bakery Café, the Anthonys have added a few new recipes, such as the Fantasy Cream Pie, a confection that consists of layers of chocolate ganache, pecan caramel sauce, chocolate pastry cream and coconut pastry cream. Although the couple plans to modify parts of the menu, they intend to keep alive the wholesome reputation the Enloes established with their artisan bakery.
Gretchen and Jason promise to maintain the standard customers expect from the Village by continuing to make fresh, from-scratch pastries on site. And yes, they still use the same, specialty European butter we’ve come to pine for.
“It’s still using the same integrity, the same quality ingredients,” Gretchen explains. “[Customers] know no matter what they get here it’s going to be good and it’s going to be high quality. If they’re unhappy, for any reason, then we’ll fix it.”
Jason and Gretchen do not dread waking up at dawn day after day to serve patrons of Village Bakery Café because it is rewarding for them to know customers trust and love their fare.
“As long as you feel good when you leave this restaurant of having eaten something that sticks in your head as very memorable, we’re happy,” Gretchen assures. “We really want people to have the most memorable experience. When you’re an adult and you remember, ‘Oh my gosh, my mom used to make this,’ we want to be that to people in this community.”
Belmar Bakery & Cafe
Belmar Bakery & Cafe owners, Deana and Richard Zaccardo, never anticipated taking over a 37-year-old bake shop when they bought it from the original owner, Marvin Jackson, in March 2002. Deana, who graduated from Texas Tech University with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Exercise Science, was a full-time fitness instructor; Richard, on the other hand, already had his foot in the door at Belmar working part-time at the bakery he used to drool over as a child.
“I was always the little kid with my face on the window outside,” Richard recalls as he watches a machine (the sheeter) flatten pie dough.
With just the two of them on staff, Deana and Richard survived their first holiday season, but it definitely took some adjustments, Deana says. On top of learning a new business and expanding the shop to include a café, the Zaccardos found themselves spending the majority of their time at the bakery. Richard even parked Deana’s parents’ travel trailer in the parking lot and didn’t budge until they got into the groove of operating a bakery. Despite the rough start, customers remained loyal to Belmar, encouraging its new owners.
“We have great, great, supportive customers who love this place,” Deana says, “and when we bought it I think they loved the fact that we were putting a lot of love and TLC in it. I think the customers appreciated that.”
The husband-wife team of 18 years has kept most of Belmar’s original recipes, but they’ve also made adjustments, such as the café and Cakeland as well as slightly changing up the initial menu. Deana and Richard have added five pies to the 20-plus selection of old-style favorites.
“Apple, cherry, blueberry, the real classics people grew up with,” Deana says. “Very traditional, that’s what works for us.”
Belmar prides itself on making all of its products on site daily and fans have voted it Best Bakery in the Best of Amarillo polls for a decade. Belmar may have changed over the years, but customers can bet they will get tried-and-true recipes they grew up on in the neighborhood bakery.
As the first and last person in line to get a piece of cake when he was little, Richard developed an appreciation for baking from his mother. On their honeymoon, Deana has a picture of Richard smiling in front a bakery, so it makes perfect sense that he chose this career path. Deana sold her Jazzercise franchise in order to devote more time to the family business that she claims has helped her stay on a strict diet plan. The couple’s varying views and talents is what makes Belmar successful. Separated by a wall and two swinging doors, Richard sticks to baking while Deana runs Cakeland and the creative, marketing and financial aspects.
“It’s a good deal. Sometimes the stresses of the business, he may see it some way and I see it my way. And I usually get my way and so it’s a joke around here,” Deana laughs, employees nodding their heads in unison behind her.
Although he originally dreamed of opening his own doughnut shop, Richard seems pretty happy with the full-line retail bakery.
“It’s very rewarding when we have customers stand in line for a pie,” Richard says as he pours cherry filling into a raw pie shell. “It’s very rewarding.”
by Drew Belle Zerby
After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.