By Annemarie Ahearn
[W]hen we reached out to Cheryl Michaelsen and Mike LaPosta, the husband-and-wife co-owners of Rockland’s Berry Manor Inn, to set up an interview with the infamous Pie Moms, Cheryl answered the phone. “Well, let’s see,” she said. “Tuesday’s no good because it’s bingo night, so how about Wednesday afternoon?”
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
Ally Taylor (Cheryl’s mom), Janet LaPosta (Mike’s mom), and Anne Mannheim, (affectionately called the “spare mom”) have garnered quite a reputation — along with spots on local television, the Food Network, and the Discovery Channel — for their knockout berry pies and ability to bring the house down in laughter while baking. For the last 14 years, the three women, all in their 80s, have been working for free at the Berry Manor Inn as chambermaids and pie makers, an arrangement they jokingly call “indentured servitude” (Cheryl calls it “dentured servitude”). Ally, Anne, and Cheryl chatted with us about flour, family, and friendship.
So how long have you ladies known each other?
Anne: Oh, we’ve known each other for a long time, since we were thin. Now we’re a little more robust.
Did you ever think you’d be baking pies for a living on the coast of Maine?
Ally: Definitely not. [Janet and I] were nursery school teachers for much of our lives. None of us have a cooking background, but in our day, it was much more common to make a pie from scratch at home than it is today. For some reason, people are afraid to make a crust or use the right amount of thickener. And a store-bought pie just doesn’t taste or smell the same as one straight out of the oven. So when Cheryl and Mike opened the inn, we moved to Maine and started making pies for the guests because it was one less thing for them to do. Now, we’ve made so many, we can just about do it in our sleep. In fact, Ally is the fastest pie maker around — her fingers are lightning quick when she’s working the dough. As far as living on the Maine coast goes, any farther north and we’d be in Siberia.
What makes a pie a success?
Cheryl: Depends who you ask. Janet shaves butter into the flour and adds a little sugar to the crust. She rolls it out on a marble surface to keep the butter cold. She makes a larger top crust and then rolls it down and brushes it with egg wash and sugar. Ally uses Crisco and cold water to bring the crust together, then makes a larger bottom crust and rolls it up and doesn’t like to brush it with a wash. While the ladies are quite fond of one another, they don’t like anything about each other’s pies.
What kind of pies are typically in the pantry?
Anne: Always raspberry, cherry, and blueberry. And sometimes, Ally will make her famous apple pie. When the guests help themselves to a slice, we like to ask which one they preferred, and if it isn’t our pie, we simply walk away.
What is it like working for your kids?
Ally: Terrible! Every time we didn’t clean a room just right, we went on probation. Sometimes double probation, or Cheryl would threaten to dock our pay. When we were giggling too much, we were given time-outs. And those stairs, so much going up and down — cruel working conditions. When we saw the “No Vacancy” sign, we knew we were in for it. In recent years, Cheryl has relegated us to less contact with the guests. We’re not as spritely as we used to be.
Cheryl: Mom, you didn’t get paid, remember? Between the three of them, they didn’t have a good leg to stand on. Each time they brought a glass of juice out to a guest in the dining room, it was half full for all the swishing around. We had to fire them as housekeepers because they kept writing in the guestbook, “Big Mama needs a raise.”
You guys have come a long way: winning local pie competitions and being featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, and The Chew, with your own hair and make-up teams. Are you pleased with your pie careers?
Anne: Well, yes. We like to be referred to as “the talent” now: “The talent is ready for lunch.” “The talent is looking a little tired.” Ally is also known for her bird calls. She thinks David Letterman will call her any day.
Cheryl: During the winter months, Ally floats around her pool in Florida and tells stories about being a star.
What is it like, Cheryl, to have the Pie Moms as your staff for so many years?
Cheryl: In all seriousness, Mike and I are caretakers in our family for our parents. Our mothers wanted to help us at the inn, and this way we could at least keep an eye on them. It gives them pride and purpose every day, and they love each other’s company. It’s been so special to have every meal with them for so many years at this stage in their lives. Not everyone gets to spend so much time with their folks when they’re in their 70s and 80s.
Visit berrymanorinn.com to see Ally and Janet, complete with flour-dusted noses, singing their Pie Mom theme song. (It took them a few takes to do it without giggling.)