The secret to Jess & Jim’s popular apple pies? Hard work

Jess and Jims Ashley
Ashley Fancher makes Jess & Jim’s apple pies from scratch. “I hand cut every single apple,” she says. Jess & Jim’s is taking orders for the holiday. Photo by Kathy Feist.

The secret to Jess & Jim’s popular pies? Hard work

By Kathy Feist

Somewhere from the deep recesses of Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse, Lady Gaga is blasting at full volume.  A 33-year-old mom surrounded by hundreds of apples is rolling out pie dough and dancing to the beat.

“Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” says Ashley Fancher. “But it’s so therapeutic! I will blast music as loud as it goes.I have no children at my ankles. I have no one calling me on my phone. Just me, my apple peeler and rolling out my dough.”

Fancher is the eldest daughter of Mike and Debbie VanNoy, owners of Martin City’s oldest restaurant. Once a week, Fancher steps away from her full-time job as mom to three children ages 1, 6 and 10, and her part time jobs as a hair stylist and waitress, to spend a full day making dessert pies and carrot cake for Jess & Jim’s.

This time of year gets exceptionally busy for Fancher as customers begin to place orders for whole apple pies for the holidays. She usually churns out 25 to 40 pies a week.

Jess & Jim’s didn’t always have made-from-scratch desserts. Like many restaurants, they purchased them elsewhere. But seven years ago, Dan Cook, an employee who liked to baked, talked the VanNoys into offering homemade desserts.

“He thought it would be a huge asset, affordable, and easy,” recalls Fancher. “His rule was that we could not give out the recipe. It’s his family’s recipe.”

Cook and the VanNoys collaborated on recipes, tested them out, and perfected them before finally offering them to the customers. After a couple of years, Cook left and Fancher took over as baker.

“At first people were totally saying ‘You can totally tell this is homemade. The apples are crispy.’ Or they would say ‘I’ve never tasted anything like that,’” said Fancher.

Even today, when customers are told it’s the best pie they will ever taste they first respond with a blase attitude, according to Debbie VanNoy. “They will say ‘Oh, okay.’ Then later they will say ‘That WAS the best apple pie I ever had!’”

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Jess and Jim’s apple pie at first glance might appear to be overdone. But that’s the result of a caramelized, flaky top crust, giving a rustic presentation. There are 11 apples in each pie….and lots of butter and sugar, according to Fancher.

“Between carrot cake and apple pie, there’s lots of sugar!” laughs Fancher. Fancher says her carrot cake gives Jack Stack’s version a run for its money. With spices laced throughout the cream cheese frosting, the cake is claimed by many to be better. “I say let’s have a carrot cake face off,” says Fancher.

Jess and Jim’s is accepting orders for the holidays now. The pies are frozen when picked up and only need to thaw naturally. (Reheating will dry them out.) To place an order, call 816-941-9499. Jess and Jim’s is located at 517 E. 135th St. in Martin City. 

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