At Kathy’s Pies in downtown Cedar Rapids, Thanksgiving means all hands on deck as the bakery prepares for the holiday season.

“Last week we made the 6,000 boxes we’ll need for the week of Thanksgiving,” co-owner Terri Weyland-Henecke said. “It’s become a family tradition for people to come here for their pie.”

To prepare for the rush, the bakery adds five extra helpers to its normal staff of 13 to 14 employees. Thanksgiving is immediately followed by what Weyland-Henecke terms “Cookie hell,” when individuals and businesses alike will order dozens or even hundreds of cookies for parties and gifts.

“The Kernels alone will order 150 frosted sugar cookies with their logo,” she said.

Over the years, she said the increased trend of buying local has helped the bakery thrive in the face of competition from chains and big box stores. A move to the current downtown space at 616 Fifth Ave. SE in 2000 from a tiny location on First Avenue also helped them ramp up demand and production. The bakery nabbed the top spot in Hoopla’s Top Shelf Bakery and Sweets category this year.

Kathy’s Pies opened 30 years ago, and Weyland-Henecke, 54, joined her sister, Kathy McCauley, in the family business 10 years later. She previously had worked in retail and once tried a traditional 9-to-5 job but knew that wasn’t for her.

“I hated it immensely,” she said.

In contrast, she said though the bakery business is a lot of work, she enjoys it.

“It can be a lot of fun. You have a lot of people in here at the same time working toward the same goal,” she said. “You’re awfully proud when you’re able to crank out 6,000 pies in one week ... it’s an undertaking of epic proportions.”

Every day is different, she added, and she has enjoyed learning new things, from how to work the new computerized ordering system they recently installed to figuring out the best way to curl chocolate shavings for a chocolate cream pie, her favorite pie to make.

“It’s very satisfying,” she said. “You take a 10-pound bar and use a potato peeler. Everyone has their favorite potato peeler and writes their initials on the handle so they can quickly find their peeler.”

With more than 35 pies in the bakery’s repertoire, plus cookies, cakes and pastries, there’s something at Kathy’s for everyone.

As for Weyland-Henecke, her favorite is the peach crumb pie.

TOP BAKERY AND SWEETS

WINNER: Kathy’s Pies
LOCATION: 616 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
CONTACT: (319) 362-5216, kathyspies.com
RUNNERS-UP: The Wright Touch, 7085 C Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, (319) 294-2253, thewrighttouch.ws; Scratch Cupcakery, 927 E. Second Ave., Coralville, (319) 359-2256, 315 Main St., Cedar Falls, (319) 277-7855, 1517 Flammang Drive, Waterloo, (319) 229-7065 and 7450 Bridgewood Blvd., Suite 215, West Des Moines, (515) 518-8962, scratchcupcakery.com.
ONLINE: To view the Top Shelf magazine, go to Hooplanow.com/topshelf
PICK IT UP: Top Shelf is available at Hy-Vee, Casey’s and Fareway stores in the Corridor.