The smell of baking surrounds the small kitchen in Susan Danner’s home, encasing it in warmth.
Maybe a song by the Beatles or Neil Diamond is playing in the background while Danner rolls out pie dough.
She follows a recipe she knows by heart, a recipe that has a special story: her peanut butter pie.
The story starts around 1966 when she was visiting her grandparents at the age of 19 in Fort Pierce, Florida. There she tried the “famous” peanut butter pie. She liked it so much she broke the unspoken rule of asking a restaurant for their recipe.
She took the recipe back home to Muncie with her, and it became the signature pie at her parents' restaurant in the Westbrook Country Club, which is now Elks Country Club.
The pie also became famous at the Altrusa Club, selling up to $100 at fundraisers. Danner and her mother were members of the women’s civic organization.
What makes the pie special is the layer of vanilla pudding, which Danner makes homemade with her own vanilla extract, along with the peanut butter-powder sugar mixture.
On top of it being her family’s restaurant’s signature pie, the pie was featured in the book “The Book Club Cook Book” by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.
“It's just one of those things that started out by me being a naive teenager saying, ‘Can I have the recipe for that?’And it just blossomed from there,” Danner said.
The peanut butter pie is just one chapter of her pie repertoire. Of the 40 pies she offers, all are a mix of family and self-developed recipes.
One of her favorites is her Butterscotch pie, a recipe she took the time to learn from Birdie, one of the cooks at her parents’ restaurant.
“She didn't use a recipe, she just said ‘Well, I just do it till it's right,’” Danner said. “I don't know how many days I stood and watched her make this pie until I finally got it down.”
Each of her recipes shares this attention to detail and research. When she introduces a new flavor of pie, she’ll try multiple different recipes until it’s right.
Her home-based business is run through her Facebook page, The Pie Lady & KittyKnit Designs. However, she does sell pies at farmer's markets, specifically Muncie Makers Market, a market her daughter owns.
For farmer’s markets, she’ll bake 150 6-inch pies for $5 and bring her ServSafe Certification. The Muncie Makers Market starts at 5 p.m., and by 5:30- 6 p.m., she’ll be sold out.
Going to the Makers Market gave her her name, as she became known as the “Pie Lady.”
On her Facebook page, she sells 8-inch pies for $10 using recyclable packaging. Danner said she had “nearly 1200” orders last year.
Danner believes a lot of her success comes from word of mouth on top of being active in the Muncie community for years.
Prior to starting her business, Danner earned three degrees at Ball State University: a bachelor’s in science and a minor in home economics, a bachelor’s in management information systems, and a master’s in computer science and statistics.
Danner taught science classes in middle and high school, and she ended up teaching computer programming and statistics at Ball State.
She was the executive director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and of the YWCA of Muncie, and she ran her bookstore “Danner’s Books” from 1995 to 2008. The bookstore had a cafe, where she would sell baked goods, and that’s how “The Book Club Cook Book” learned about the peanut butter pie recipe.
Stachia Bennings, a customer of Danner’s, originally met Danner at her bookstore when she was around the age of eight. Bennings reconnected with Danner over social media, and she buys Danner’s pies for the holidays.
“The cooking and the baking and the making is her love language,” Bennings said. “So that is her way of loving on the community as well, and she's made it embarrassingly affordable.”
Bennings also noted Danner’s Pride pies, which is a pie of any flavor with any pride flag-colored pie crust, being a unique aspect of Danner’s business.
Danner is a Quaker, with a long family history of being in the faith.
“I was always taught everyone has value,” Danner said. “You don't discriminate against anyone for any reason. No matter whether it's race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, whatever. Everyone is a good person.”
Amanda “Mindy” Cantu, another customer, met Danner at her Makers Market booth.
“She was the only booth that had baked goods, and they looked so pretty,” Cantu said. “So I had to get one of the little pies because it was $5.”
For the New Year, Danner celebrated her top six customers by gifting them a free pie. Cantu was one of those customers, and she said it felt good to have loyal customers noticed, as well as having Danner checking in on customers.
“She’s really sweet, and she does make you feel like she really cares about what's going on in your life,” Cantu said.
Danner feels a connection with customers is important, and business is more than just sales.
“You want people to feel good,” Danner said. “You want them to be happy, and happy people make other people happy.”
Danner advises customers to “be adventuresome” and to “try a flavor you’ve never tried before.”