Food

How a Pie Shop in a Tiny Texas Town Became a Healing Haven for Broken Hearts

For Tara Royer Steele, owner of Royers Pie Haven in Round Top, Texas, pie is a metaphor for 'my whole life'
BY Hazel Atkins TIMESeptember 10, 2022 PRINT

Despite being a tiny town of 90 residents, Round Top is a happening place. Located smack dab between Houston and Austin, Texas, it is a favorite destination for people who wish to escape the city for a weekend. It hosts antique shows three times a year, it offers amazing Shakespeare plays, it boasts a renowned festival hill.

And Round Top has one more thing: It has pie.

Tara Royer Steele, living in Houston, was 12 years old when her father was given an opportunity to run the Round Top Cafe. He didn’t know anything about running a restaurant, but he took a leap of faith. At the time, the Round Top Cafe was a hole-in-the-wall burger joint with two pie recipes: buttermilk and apple.

Royer Steele started waiting tables; her father loved to cook, and her mother loved to gather. Slowly but surely, Royer Steele recalled, “My parents started to put their own spin on things. The food was amazing; the family, the ambiance created a destination.”

Soon, pie became a specialty. From the first two recipes sprang 20 recipes: “Most of them were mistakes at first,” said Royer Steele. “We didn’t know anything about pie.” But soon the pies, using a friend’s family recipe for the crust, were drawing people to the cafe.

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Tara Royer Steele (third from left) created Royers Pie Haven in Round Top, Texas to be a place for people to go when “when life is hard, and you want to sit under a big ol’ oak tree and eat a piece of pie and escape.” (Courtesy of Ellen Renee Photography)

Creating a Haven

Royers Round Top Cafe has 10 tables and lines out the door. Royer Steele noticed, 11 years ago, that there was no room for people who just wanted pie. So she bought a quaint old building nearby, with no kitchen, and named it Royers Pie Haven. She simultaneously opened a commercial kitchen about 20 minutes away in Brenham.

“I named it that,” Royer Steele mused about the Pie Haven, “but I didn’t know it was a haven.” Desiring to serve pie and coffee in a peaceful spot, Royer Steele actually created a place for herself, employees, and customers to “walk in the door and feel completely safe.” The Pie Haven is a place to go “when life is hard, and you want to sit under a big ol’ oak tree and eat a piece of pie and escape.”

When she opened the Pie Haven, Royer Steele was stretched very thin. She recalled thinking, “I can’t be at the cafe and the Pie Haven all the time. I cater, we have mail order, I have children, and oh, hey, I’m married, too. Groceries—what are those?”

She sold the cafe business to her brother and delegated other tasks. It was then that she realized that the Pie Haven was a special place for her.

“When I wasn’t submerged in the cafe, I could really experience the Pie Haven,” she said. “I could see that God’s favor is all over that darn place.

“When you open up your hands and surrender to whatever you’re supposed to do, God will bring the people to work, the people to buy, and He’ll equip you. I believe it’s that place,” she said. “I didn’t know that until I left the cafe.”

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Royer Steele wrote a book of devotions, “Eat, Pie, Love.” (Courtesy of Ellen Renee Photography)

Healing the Broken

The Pie Haven blessed Royer Steele and all those who work there.

“To walk into a place where you love your job, it’s a joy,” she said. She’s also been able to offer this joy to employees, most of whom are girls.

“Most of them are in high school. We’ve walked through pregnancies, we’ve walked through hard times, we’ve walked through boyfriends, we’ve walked through abuse.

“God, do you just bring the broken people?” Royer Steele sometimes asked despairingly. “But then I realize, hey, we’re all broken.”

Her brothers call her Mother Hen and the girls the Pie Chicks. Royer Steele believes it is important to love the chicks and equip them.

“I must build trust with them. If they trust you, you know you can trust them and they’re going to do a good job. They know, ‘She believes in me, even though my parents don’t, or I’ve been cheated on or abused or taken advantage of or betrayed. She still believes in me. She’s sitting there with me in the darkness.’”

Royer Steele’s general manager was working as a pharmacist at Walgreens when she started at the Pie Haven on her days off.

“Everyone’s so happy here and full of joy; no one’s happy when they’re coming to the pharmacy to get meds,” she said. “I’d rather leave a paycheck for quality of life.” She went through a divorce, had no child support, and was living with her parents doing anything she could to make ends meet.

Royer Steele said proudly, “She’s now the general manager, and over the last several years she’s been able to have her own house. She now helps love those girls at the Pie Haven.”

Customers also find solace at the Pie Haven.

“I couldn’t hammer a darn thing into the walls of the building because it’s so old,” Royer Steele recalled, “so I just started writing on the walls with sharpies!” The walls are covered, she said: “When you walk in the door, there’s scripture and quotes and encouragement all over.” She put sticky notes on the bathroom walls, and people leave their own messages.

“People take so long in the bathroom!” Royer Steele said with a laugh. “They leave here encouraged.”

Pies
Pies first became a specialty at Royer Steele’s family’s cafe, Royers Round Top Cafe. (Courtesy of Ellen Renee Photography)

The Whole Pie

When Royer Steele left the cafe, she was able to enter a quiet place and examine her life. She wrote a book, “Eat, Pie, Love,” aimed at women who are dreaming of finding God’s plan. In 52 devotions, she served up a “daily slice of the pie,” asking readers questions to help them consider their lives.

Pie, in her book and in her own life, is a metaphor.

“Pie is my whole life,” she said. “It’s all our junk. The good, the sweet, the salty. When you put it in the fire and it comes out, and you cut a slice and you serve it to somebody else, it is pleasing and inviting. It is beautiful to God. He can make that slice of pie—your life—so good.”

Hazel Atkins
Hazel Atkins loved teaching English literature to undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa before becoming a stay-at-home mom, enthusiastic gardener, and freelance writer.
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