For the past 30 years and a good time prior to that I have spent my summers relaxing at the North Shore. The memories I have shared with my family and friends are the treasures that fill my heart and mind.
One of the most precious memories was our annual trip to Betty’s Pies, a small hole in the wall café just two miles north of Two Harbors, Minnesota.
The ambiance of the small diner was one of the greatest parts of the experience. Screened windows were an open invitation to the brisk North Shore air. In the 1970’s, air conditioning was not a thought. In fact, very few restaurants in on the North Shore had air conditioning.
Betty’s Pies was a staple on a trip to the North Shore and today it is a certified landmark along with Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse. Betty opened her pie shop in 1956 in an 8 X 8 foot building. She rose at 3:00 a.m. to begin baking the 100 pies that were necessary for the day’s consumption.
The walls of the diner were lined with spatulas, wooden spoons, and various other utensils reminiscent of days gone by. The unique grease board proudly touted the pies for the day. As the pies and cakes were consumed, the board was changed to reflect the sumptuous treats still available for the remainder of the day. Fresh walleye dinner was one of the favorite foods along with Betty’s special Lemon Angel Pie which is still a favorite today.
The counters were lined with pedestal cake plates displaying delectable delicacies of cookies, bars, and cakes just waiting to be devoured.
We stood in line for sometimes 30 minutes waiting for one of the gray enamel tables to open. We hungrily watched others shovel in their food hoping they would finish quickly so we could move in to take over their spot.
In Recent Years
In 1984 Betty retired and sold her business. The tiny diner still flourished under the new ownership until the clientele became so large it outgrew the small space and a new and updated restaurant was built up at the top of the hill behind the original diner. It now had air conditioning, a huge deck and separate dining room and counter. The original ambiance had been lost but the food was still comparable.
Betty herself would pay weekly visits to the new restaurant greeting visitors and welcoming them to the tradition she had made. I can recall meeting Betty and having her proudly usher me in to what had become her legacy.
But soon Betty aged and the visits waned. The new owners began to add more varieties of pies and menu options letting some of the original specialties fall to the wayside. The food became mediocre as did the pies. New people still flocked in droves to partake of the sustenance that was still being offered.
As one of the older customers of Betty’s Pies, I recognized that the past had been lost and the future had produced a restaurant that was surviving on Betty’s name and reputation and not on the excellence that once made it so special.
In March of 2015, Betty passed away at the age of 90 years old. To me, the turn of events signaled the end of an era; the end of the unique atmosphere that brought me back to Betty’s year after year.
I still visit Duluth every year in July but haven’t eaten at Betty’s for almost five years now. I can recall our last visit left us disappointed in the caliber of the food and devoid of the special small town atmosphere that had made us feel so welcomed and alive. My friend and I accepted the fact that the Betty’s Pies we knew no longer existed and it was time to move on to new beginnings.
Of course new people still come to Betty’s Pies and adore their visit. They do not even realize that there was something so much better. The restaurant continues to flourish because of Betty’s reputation. She has left her mark in history and it is one that Two Harbors will live with forever.
This fact brings us to the reality of life that nothing stays the same; the past cannot be duplicated; still we must live for the present and accept the future as God brings it forth in our lives. Thank God he continues to give us the love and courage to move forward and make new memories each day.