In the tiny town of Monroe, Virginia, something sweet has been stirring for nearly 70 years.
Woodruff’s Café & Pie Shop first opened in 1952 and its founder, 103-year-old Mary Woodruff, still helps run the business. She opened the shop with her husband, James, at a time when there were very few black-owned businesses in the state and throughout country.
In the 1950s, the couple constructed the building and then lived in the apartment upstairs while operating the café in the space below.
“We were happy. We were just getting ready to do something together. And we did. And I've been blessed,” Woodruff told Al Roker while he visited the shop.
After 30 years in business, the shop briefly closed down in 1982. But when Woodruff’s daughter, Angela Scott, felt a calling to keep her family's food-making traditions alive, she decided to reopen the eatery with her husband in 1998.
“I just really do think it was a God thing. It was the legacy that I wanted to carry on. This is what I'm supposed to do,” Scott told Al.
Scott, who now runs the shop alongside her mother and two sisters, Darnelle and Darnette, remembers spending a lot of time in the café when she was a small child.
“My mom had a little playpen and she'd keep me in here while she was running the business,” she said.
While business is now booming, it hasn’t always been easy for the Woodruff family. When Mary and James Woodruff initially opened their business, they faced several obstacles and encountered many dangerous situations as black business owners in the South during the early civil rights era.
“They had a couple bricks thrown through the window," Scott said. "And then my sisters integrated the schools in Amherst County. And as soon as that happened, there were a lot of (white) people who didn't like that, so they stopped patronizing the business."
However, the family has deep roots in the area and never thought of leaving Virginia. Scott’s great grandfather, who was a freed slave, operated one of the first black-owned businesses in Amherst county during the early 1800s. It was a blacksmith shop that sat right across the street from where the Woodruffs' pie stop stands today.
“We think about him a lot, and wow, I think he would be really happy,” Scott said of her great grandfather.
In the late 1990s, when Scott first reopened her parents' store, business was pretty slow. She was mostly selling sandwiches and had a hard time attracting customers.
“It was off the beaten path. It had been closed for so many years. There were days that we didn't have a customer, maybe one or two," the business owner admitted. "But Mama just kept going, 'Angie, you gotta have faith, it's gonna be fine.' I think if it hadn't been for her, I probably would've closed."
That's when Scott decided to return to her family's bread and butter: pies.
“As soon as we put the Pie Shop (sign) out there, that's when people started stopping,” she said.
“Wow. If you bake it, they will come,” Al said.
He's right. Angela estimates they sell around 75 pies — all of which are handmade daily — on any given Saturday.
“Pie is love. When you bite into a piece of pie, it just makes you feel loved,” Scott added.
Scott, whom Al dubbed the “Picasso of pie,” gets inspired by a variety of cookbooks, as well as her own family dishes, to create the unique recipes that are sold in the shop today. Woodruff’s pies also come with a special touch on every box — each one is hand-stamped with Psalm 34:8.
"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good," Scott explained. "So we just want everybody to know what's inside that box is good, and the Lord is good. Because he's the reason why we're here."