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A slice of Grinnell

Merle Reitler, co-owner of A & M Cafe, has already made 1,500 pies this year. Photo by Isabel Torrence.

Merle Reitler doesn’t know how many pies he has baked in his lifetime, but he thinks it’s upwards of 30,000. This year alone, Reitler has already baked over 1,500 pies to sell via the A & M Café at 1027 4th Ave and give away for good causes. And while he gets occasional help, Reitler mostly works alone. He makes all his pies completely by hand, not even using a machine for his crust.

Reitler worked as a farmer for many years and did not enter the restaurant business until he was fifty and he and his wife, Audre, started a 24-hour diner called West Side Diner. One of his waitresses made him a cherry pie, and after that, he decided pies were his calling.

“I had never cooked. I don’t know nothing about cooking. When we opened up in February of 1992, I said, well, I’ll run the overnight shift and when I’m not busy I’ll make pies. I said I’ll get crust and get fillings and make pies for when I’m not doing anything. So consequently, I started making pies, making my own recipes and coming up with recipes. There’s a recipe that I’ve got that is legitimate, I’ve changed them to where I like them. If nobody likes my food, they don’t eat here because I make it how I like it,” he said.

Growing up in the farm, Reitler did not come from a lot of money, so he tries to make his pies affordable. He sells his pies for just $12, and gives many away to charity. At charity auctions his pies sell for up to $150. On veterans’ day, he gave away a free slice to every veteran.

If nobody likes my food, they don’t eat here because I make it how I like it. -Merle Reitler, co-owner of A & M Café

Reitler relies on classic pie recipes. While he has experimented with vegan pies, his base pudding is comprised of just four simple ingredients: flour, eggs, sugar, and milk. Merle has tweaked his recipes over the years but emphasizes that there is nothing more basic than what he does.

“I’ve had older people, 70 to 80-year-old people tell me, ‘This tastes just like my grandmother’s,’ and I believe it, because it probably is their grandmother’s recipe. And like I said, I’m getting good at what I’m doing. The pies that I like, the pies that I make, are a lot like old people’s,” he said. “They always say, when you go into a restaurant, ‘homemade pie.’ Mine’s not a homemade pie, it’s a grandmother pie. It’s the pie your grandmother made.”

Reitler has perfected all the right techniques to make the perfect pie, so while he didn’t have any specific advice, he is more than happy to share his wisdom with anyone who is interested.

“I would probably say that if anyone would want to know or learn anything about the pie business that they should come to me,” he said. “I could set them up. See, I started not knowing anything, when I started in the restaurant business it was a big thing at home because my kids said I couldn’t cook, I could make eggs. So, when I started making pies, I would make it this way and this way and this way, and finally I got it down to the way it should be. I took tips from people that didn’t even begin to know how to make a pie, and they tried to tell me everything they knew about how to make a pie.”

Reitler makes over 50 different kinds of pies and is willing to tweak them just how you like it. If you want a pie, head down to A & M Café and fill out a form. Reitler’s pies are sure to the cherry on top of all your upcoming gatherings and celebrations.

Reitler sells his pies for $12 each, and will customize orders. Photo by Isabel Torrence.


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About the Contributor
Millie Peck
Millie Peck, Opinions Editor
Millie is a fourth-year English and psychology double major. Despite stewing on a witty bio for the better half of a year, she has failed to think of anything good, so will instead just lean into the fact that she is living the liberal arts dream: sharing a rainbow polka-dot house with seven roommates and a cat.  
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