“There is something in the New York air,” Simone de Beauvoir, the French activist and writer, once said, “that makes sleep useless.” The city vibrates late into the night, under the Times Square lights that turn darkness into day, past the glittery Empire State Building and down, down, down into the Lower East Side. When the restaurants close and the clubs open, drunk, sober, high—New Yorkers all line up for a slice.
On the Lower East Side, on Delancey near the corner of Allen, Petee’s Pie Company does not serve pizza pie. It serves pie pie: sour cherry, wild blueberry, lemon meringue, strawberry dream, chocolate chess, banana cream. “When we first opened [in 2014], we planned to close at 8 p.m.,” says Robert Paredez, who co-owns the shop with his wife, the founder, pie-master and namesake, Petra, who earned the nickname “Petee” as a kid.
“That first year, around 8:05, 8:10 every night, as we were cleaning up, there would be a knock on the door,” Paredez recalls of how pie-hungry patrons begged him to stay open just a few minutes longer. “So then we said we’d close at nine, and eventually that became 10,” he says. “Soon enough it was midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.”
After school, Petra moved to New York City to teach children with special needs. “But the pie gene is strong with me,” she says. Petra comes from a family of pie bakers; her parents run Mom’s Apple Pie Company in Leesburg, Virginia. They also own a farm in nearby Loudoun County that grows much of the produce used at Mom’s, including rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries and pumpkins. (Petra and Robert visit once a season to pick produce for Petee’s, which supplements the produce they buy from local New York farms.) After her first year teaching, Petra met Robert, and four years later they jumped at an opportunity to open their own shop. There’s now a second location, Petee’s Café, in Clinton Hill.
Historically, bakers have kept early hours—Petra takes the morning shift, Robert the evenings—often rising before dawn to bake the bread, fry the doughnuts or proof the pastries for morning customers. In the last few years, bakery-bar concepts—Butter & Scotch in Brooklyn, Fry and Pie in New Orleans—have popped up, providing sweets in the morning and stronger offerings at night. But dedicated pie shops, a rare breed of bakery, are generally open by mid-morning and shut around dusk. A growing few, including Pie Bar in Seattle and The Pie Hole in Los Angeles, stay open late, suggesting that a wedge of apple, cherry, banana or chocolate chess might be a new variation on the midnight slice.
After dark, the windows of Petee’s give off a golden glow on an otherwise dark block. “Time sort of stops in here,” says Tejan Rahim, a student of photography at NYU and a staffer who often works until closing time. “It’s a happy place to be.”
What are the late nights like?
Robert Paredez: “You know that diner scene in True Romance? Where they sort of flirt over slices of pie? That was sort of what we were going for. Pie has a long-standing tradition as a late-night snack in New York City, mostly because of all of the diners. But as rents have gone up, diners have been closing, or they’ve been purchasing things like pies wholesale, and the quality just isn’t the same. We wanted to see if we could bring that back. Petee’s Café [in Clinton Hill], with its booths, has that atmosphere, but because our first location is on the Lower East Side, where the nightlife is just everywhere, it gets a later, somewhat drunker crowd.”
What time of night does it start getting busy?
RP: “It varies, but after 10, 11. The business is pretty consistent, but people do hang out later on Fridays and Saturdays.”
What do you think it is about pie that attracts the late-night crowd?
Petra Paredez: “For one thing, you can eat a slice without you feeling like it’s pushing you over the edge. The flavors are balanced. You can eat a slice without feeling gross after. For me, I think it’s the texture of the crust, it’s like butter suspended with a little bit of flour. You don’t have to work to eat it, you don’t have to gnaw on that crust to break it down. It’s plastic fork tender, you can crush one of those slices without even realizing what happened.”
How many slices of pie do you go through each day? What about at night?
RP: “We go through about 350 slices a day, and 250 of those are sold at night. Plus, we’ll sell between a dozen and 50 whole pies via Caviar, Postmates and UberEats. This is on a normal day. During Thanksgiving, or other holidays, it’s a lot more. Last Thanksgiving we sold 6,000 pies.”
What are the most popular slices?
PP: “They’re the classic flavors we’ve had since the beginning: salty chocolate chess, cherry, banana cream. It goes back to what people crave. It’s funny, people walk in, see the chocolate chess—a brownie-like chocolate pie—and say, ‘I’ll have a slice of the chocolate chess . . . what’s chess?’ They might not know exactly what it is, but they know they want it.”
Are there any hazards in selling pie late at night? What’s the strangest request you’ve received or strangest thing you’ve seen late-night?
RP: “Probably the worst thing was people were stealing our tip jar. Now it’s chained to the counter, so that can’t happen anymore. Since we are not selling alcohol, it’s a pretty low-risk, kind of fun situation. A lot of people do come in drunk, in between trips to the bar, and I think that’s a good choice, actually. Take a quick break from drinking with a slice of pie. But also, I think it’s hard to be an asshole when you’re going out for a slice of pie, you know? This is just a happy place.”