By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA
This was exactly what I was observing when I saw the sign that sucked me in. We were driving slowly, very slowly as the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph through this particular town. And as I admired the homey almost soothing atmosphere, I spotted a sign in a cafe window framed in delicate lace curtains.
HOMEMADE DEEP DISH PIE $4.99
“Oh honey,” I said as I turned toward my husband clapping my hands and bouncing slightly in my seat. “Wouldn’t it be fun to stop in for some homemade pie? Can we?”
“Of course,” he said and he immediate pulled over to search for a parking spot.
And you know what?
I wasn’t disappointed by the looks of the café at all. Nope – the decor was exactly how I had pictured it would be. The occasional black and white photos of days long past were hung over aging flowered wallpaper. There was a lunch counter with red stools along the back wall and wooden tables with miss-matched chairs filling the space between. Each table had a small vase holding a single daisy. It really had the perfect small town feel.
And even though I couldn’t see into the kitchen, I knew who was back there. Yes of course – who else could it be but a sweet elderly grandmother lovingly baking her famous pie, her grey hair pulled tightly back in a bun, her flour smudged apron covering her 1950’s style dress. Sigh – I couldn’t wait for my small town – homemade – deep dish – pie experience.
We headed toward the back and sat at the lunch counter where we found the menu tucked between the condiments. I quickly buried my nose among the greasy pages and tried to decide what type of pie sounded good, cherry, apple, peach, strawberry. I didn’t notice the waitress until she asked, “What can I get you?”
“I think I will have a piece of cherry….,” I began as I glanced up into the face of a young woman who had several facial piercings and hair colored a very unnatural shade of red.” …Pie,” I finished.
Okay, so fine, the waitress didn’t really fit my small town fantasy. But that didn’t mean that my homemade pie wasn’t at that very moment being placed on some dainty flowered china by the grandmother in the kitchen. Right – the sign said HOMEMADE DEEP DISH PIE you know- I mean – there were lace curtains tied back with bows for heaven’s sake.
But when a young man in a dirty apron place in front of me a small white bowl with a spoon protruding from the side, I tried to explain. “No I ordered the homemade – deep – dish – pie.”
“Ya, cherry, this is it.” He said as he moved away. And as I stared into the bowl unable to move, all I could think was, where’s the pie lovingly made by the little grandmother in the kitchen?
And as my husband began to giggle, I realized the horrible truth. I had just paid $4.99 for a bowl of -of – canned pie filling?
That’s right – my homemade deep dish pie was a bowl full of canned cherry pie filling – I was completely mortified.
But not the hubby. He wasn’t mortified at all. In fact, he thought it was funny. Worse, he actually thought it was brilliant.
“Brilliant? Brilliant?” I stammered once I could speak. “What do you mean? I will never come back here again, this is terrible. It’s a bowl of pie filling for crying out loud.”
“What difference does it make?” He asked. “The locals know not to order the ‘homemade’ pie. Think about all the people who blow through here on their way to some place else. Heck most people wouldn’t even slow down if they didn’t have too. The sign in the window got us to come in and buy something. They’re not worried about repeat business from the tourists. When you think about it, it’s a brilliant marketing strategy. After tax, they probably made like a 400% profit off that bowl of pie filling. Why spend the money on actual pie?”
Why spend the money? Why? I was so disappointed that I wasn’t going to get my homemade deep-dish pie.
But even though disillusioned, I had to admit, it was true. If not for the sign, we would never have stopped. I glanced around the room wondering how many people had been lured in by the promise of pie only to be disappointed. And then it occurred to me, how many patrons might actually be locals slyly watching from the corner of their eye – a sad and slightly twisted form of local entertainment. Who knows, maybe a few. I mean come on, a bowl of pie filling has to piss off a least a few tourists.
But even so, I have no doubt that tucked away in some little back office is our grandma and her old accountant complete with a hand cranked adding machine bending steadily over a desk feverishly scribbling the results of some brilliant yet simple tax strategy which allows these diabolical townsfolk a way to keep all those profits from their homemade deep dish pie.