The Pie Guys were college roommates who started talking loose and fast about eating pie a dozen years ago.
A lot of pie.
More pie than Village Inn keeps in that cooler by the cash register. More pie than your grandma and all your aunts make for the annual church bake sale.
More pies than a Hooker County cow pasture.
The Pie Guys are in their 30s now. Charlie Gieseke and Andrew Ristow met back in elementary school, and Ristow and Joe Coleman worked together at Super Saver in high school.
They were all live music lovers who took road trips to listen to their favorite bands.
They (apparently) also liked pie.
So they dreamed up a road trip to all 93 counties — one massive piefest — forking up flaky crust and fruit filling in every corner of Nebraska.
It didn’t happen before their lease expired and they tossed their tassels, but every once in a while, they’d resurrect the grand plan.
And then let it drop.
But last Thanksgiving — the de facto national day of pie — they decided to just do it.
“There’s really not a good story behind it,” Gieseke says. “We just wanted to have fun with friends and eat pie.”
And on an icy Saturday in late February, they set out in Coleman’s 1998 Corolla with the goal of hitting a half-dozen Southeast Nebraska counties.
They slipped and slid their way out of Lincoln and headed to Stop 1, Mary’s Cafe in Nebraska City.
They scooted over to Auburn next, then Dawson, then Tecumseh and, finally, to Jeannie’s Place in Lewiston, a tiny village of 60 in Pawnee County, before calling it a day.
In the months since, the Pie Guys have eaten heavenly pies and freezer-burned pies; cream pies and fruit pies and nut pies, pies that could not be redeemed with ice cream and pies they’ll never forget.
Like the pies at Jeannie’s Place, where Coleman and Ristow sampled pecan pie a la mode and Gieseke sat down to a piece of strawberry rhubarb.
“Vicious rhubarb,” he said.
Jeannie Tegtmeier remembers her out-of-town visitors that icy Saturday, too.
“I have a little cafe in my home,” the retired teacher said. “I was surprised they came because the weather wasn’t very good.”
Pleasant young men, she called the Pie Guys. “I imagine they’re still at it.”
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Indeed, they are.
So far, they’ve hit 22 counties. (Since two of the Pie Guys are now married and they all have day jobs, the month-long pie-in-the-sky adventure turned into a once-a-month, one day-long endeavor.)
“At this rate, we’ll be done sometime next summer,” said Coleman, the guy in charge of pie route planning and research.
He began with the internet: “Zooming in and out of Google maps until a food icon pops up.”
When those methods failed, he turned to tracking down county clerks and emailing them for recommendations.
“It’s basically, ‘Here’s a brief rundown of what three idiots are doing.’”
The good news is, county clerks are helpful people. “They don’t want to be the county that lets us down.”
Nearly 300 miles to the west, Hayes County Clerk Sue Messersmith replied to Coleman’s email and welcomed the trio to town in mid-June.
Worried the town’s only cafe might be closed that Saturday, she’d baked a peanut butter pie. Cindy McKillip, who runs a guest house at the edge of Hayes Center, whipped up a white chocolate cream pie.
“They were fun,” Messersmith said Monday. “Their story was fun.”
So fun that that story ended up in the local paper and now the Pie Guys are headed back west for the county fair with their old-school Trapper Keeper and their pie-scoring sheets.
(Pies are rated on a scale of 1-5 for taste, filling, crust and visual appeal. No pie has yet earned a perfect 20, but Jeannie’s came close.)
Hayes County may very well have its own rating system, but either way, the pie-eaters are experienced and prepared.
Judging starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“I’m guessing there will be 40 or 50 pies,” Messersmith said. “They (the Pie Guys) will be full.”
Full and happy.
“This is more than I ever wanted,” Gieseke said. “This is great.”
And the Pie Guys want you to know they didn’t sit down with a reporter just to get their picture in the paper.
Been there, done that.
But they do need one thing, Coleman said.
“Recommendations for pie.”