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January 18, 2021
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Mom’s Apple Pie, a tradition on Gravenstein Highway

  • Mom's Apple Pie founder and owner Betty Carr is seen on a sunny Saturday afternoon on December 19, 2020 in front of her store. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Patrick Norton
December 25, 2020

If you are ever looking for a dessert that’s as rich in story as it is in flavor you might want to check out Mom’s Apple Pie on the Gravenstein Highway. Betty Carr, Mom’s Apple Pie owner and matriarch of the Carr family, exudes warmth and caring that touches the heart. Betty has a knack for making people feel good, often from the inside out, with her delectable desserts and always with her genuine charisma. The Mom’s Apple Pie story is an immigrant tale that is as American as apple pie.  It begins half-way around the world in Nagoya, Japan.  

Betty Carr was born in the summer of 1930 to a family with a proud samurai heritage. Her great grandfather was a samurai warrior who became a Kendo instructor when the samurai were disbanded in the 1800s. Her grandfather became a doctor, as did her father. Betty and her sister grew up during World War II and in their early teens were recruited into the war effort. They worked at a Seiko factory performing quality control on bomb timers. But once Nagoya became subject to allied bombing raids, Betty’s father moved the family to their summer home in the small village of Kozoji. 

After the war, Betty’s sister took up the family tradition of practicing medicine. Betty, however, had different ideas. She was dreaming of the land of opportunity. To her father’s consternation Betty had her eyes set on America. Seeing that Betty was not to be dissuaded he reluctantly offered his endorsement. In the early 1950s Betty boarded a steamer and embarked for the United States. “I had the courage to leave home. When the opportunity comes you are so excited and that excitement takes over,” recalls Carr in the 2019 documentary Mom’s Slice of Life. 

Betty’s eyes still get starry as she recalls sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco Bay. When she disembarked, the immigration officer marked her official birthday as February 18, 1931, endowing the vibrant Carr an extra year of youth and vitality, a mix-up that the humorous Carr still enjoys chuckling over. Betty attended North Central College in Napperville, Illinois. Studying Home Economics, she learned how to bake pies in the mid western style. Unknown to Carr at the time it was a bud that would blossom and bear fruit in the future. After graduating Betty moved back to San Francisco and attended the Seventh Day Baptist Seminary in San Francisco where she sang in the choir. The choir had a monthly circuit travelling through the bay area performing at different churches and also San Quentin prison. Betty’s son Harry recollects “We were watching the Johnny Cash movie where his band plays in San Quentin and mom chimed in, ‘Hey I sang there too!’” Betty’s singing also won over a fan at a small church in San Anselmo. Harry Carr Sr. became enamored with Betty and would patiently look forward to seeing her each month when the choir came to sing. As the months passed they became better acquainted and eventually got married in 1960 at the Lake Tahoe Silver Bells Wedding Chapel. 

Harry Sr. was a painter on the Oakland Bay Bridge but dreamt of moving north and starting a chicken ranch. When the time came, the pair drove north from San Francisco looking for a good property. Harry Sr. planned on continuing north but once they reached Sebastopol Betty was as far from the city as she cared to be. The couple purchased a ranch on Frei Road and settled down.  Starting not only a chicken ranch, but also a small family that included three boys; Harry Jr., David and John. The boys grew up working on the ranch and inherited a strong sense of family work ethic from their parents. “We always worked for the family. The idea of taking a job for someone else or another company was like committing treason,” recalls Harry Jr. The Carr family was always busy. They opened a roadside egg stand that included fruits and vegetables. A market in Fulton called the egg basket, as well as Carr’s drive-in in Forestville. However, it was the purchase of a property on Gravenstein Highway that included an old hill top garage where Betty’s pie-making bud began to unfurl. The Carrs’ converted the garage into a small restaurant that served breakfast and lunch. Harry Sr. built the menu around what he liked and he liked Betty’s pies. It turned out he was not alone. He convinced Betty to make a pie so they could offer a dessert to go with the meals. 

As legend has it, the boys picked the apples for the first pie, and Betty started working her magic. The first pie was baked in a tiny oven that could hardly accommodate a single pie. Nevertheless, the pie was a hit. It sold by the slice in a snap. Betty started baking one pie a day until the family could afford a new oven that could bake four pies at a time. Day by day and pie by pie the initial afterthought grew into a thriving business. Harry Sr. first acquired four hand cranked apple peelers but now the business runs four automatic peelers. Accustomed to hard work, Betty adopted the baker’s hours she keeps to this day. Up at four or five in the morning artfully assembling homemade pies, sneaking a nap in where she can and returning in the afternoon to wrap up her day. 

Harry Sr., affectionately known as Mr. Mom, passed away from heart complications in 1992. But his presence is still felt. The family cherishes the time spent working together. “We were really fortunate to be with each other so much. Time goes so quickly if you blink you miss it,” states Harry Jr. After Harry Sr. passed Betty’s natural sweetness and caring found an outlet in Mom’s customer base. “It was the customers and her relationships with them that kept Mom going after our father passed,” notes Harry Jr. Mom’s customers have returned the favor in kind. At the Gravenstein Apple Fair in 2019 Harry Jr. noticed his mom leaned over the counter of her booth scribbling on something. He strolled over to see what she was up to. It turned out she was autographing pie boxes. In a more recent episode Betty went out to meet with customers in a tent outside the shop. “It ended up looking like a scene from Marlon Brando’s Godfather, but instead Betty was like the Godmother and people lined up for a chance to pay their respects,” recalls Harry Jr.’s girlfriend Jennifer Tusa. 

When Covid-19 first hit sales dropped off dramatically. Slowly, month-by-month, they started picking up. “I think people turned to comfort food and pie is just that. It’s such an old fashioned tradition. It’s like a signpost from a simpler time. Plus when you bring a pie home it’s a shared experience. It really brings people together,” notes Harry Jr. At 90 years old Betty still keeps baker’s hours. Her genuine care and humor as infectious as ever. Mom’s is currently offering eleven fruit pies, a pecan pie and four wonderful cream and meringue pies. COVID compliant, Mom’s is offering no-touch, curbside pick-up and happily takes orders over the phone (707) 823- 8330, and via the Internet at moms-apple-pie.square.site. Mom’s can also be found online at momsapplepieusa.com. Mom’s Apple Pie will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s so order early.  As Betty says “Cakes and cookies are empty calories. But pie has nutritional value.” One more way to keep you feeling good.