Georgia Bill Puts Fried-Pie Lady Back in Business

Willie Watts has been making fried pie in her Powder Springs, Ga., kitchen and selling it for about 20 years. State regulators forced Watts to move to a commercial kitchen last week. But the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill that will allow Watts to return to her home kitchen.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Don't mess with the fried pies of Willie Watts. That's the clear message from the Georgia Legislature. Willie Watts has been making fried pies for the last 20 or so years at her home in Powder Springs, Georgia, and selling them to neighbors and a local restaurant, but last week, the State Agriculture Department shut her operation down.

After the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a feature story about her, the Agriculture Commissioner said her home kitchen had not been inspected, and that's where the legislature comes in. Yesterday, the Georgia House of Representatives hastily and unanimously passed a bill that will exempt small operations like those of Willie Watts.

And, Ms. Watts, I take it you were there when they passed that bill?

WILLIE WATTS: Yes, I was. It was my first time there.

BLOCK: Well, it sounds like you found something that those legislators could really rally behind.

WATTS: Yes, I did.

BLOCK: And you better explain, for those of us who may not have had the pleasure of eating a fried pie, just exactly what it is.

WATTS: It's dried fruit, dried apples and dried peaches, and I take them and soak them, then cook them, and I flavor them up, season them up real good, and, well, everybody knows sweet potatoes, that's an old tradition.

BLOCK: And tell me about the dough.

WATTS: Yes, I make that up from scratch. It's with self-rising flour, Crisco, buttermilk and water.

BLOCK: And is it like a turnover? You put the filling in the middle, and you fold it over?

WATTS: Right.

BLOCK: And then fry them?

WATTS: That's it, and it looks like a half-moon pie.

BLOCK: So how many might you sell in a week?

WATTS: Maybe 100 or sometimes less. I will carry them to the barbecue place. If someone wanted them, if I didn't have them, I'd just tell them go up to Johnny's.

BLOCK: Johnny's is the barbecue place?

WATTS: I wasn't trying to run a business or a bakery. It was just something that we enjoyed doing, something that we just putting love into, you know.

BLOCK: And how much does one of your pies cost?

WATTS: Well, that's the problem. I wasn't charging but $1.65, but I don't know how much they sell them at the barbecue place for. Like, it wasn't all just about the money, although we needed it. It would help pay for some of my husband's medication.

BLOCK: Your husband's is a heart patient.

WATTS: Yes, he is.

BLOCK: What was your reaction when you heard from the Agriculture Commissioner that you were going to be shut down?

WATTS: Oh, I thought, oh, my goodness. Lord knows, I don't know how or why because I wasn't trying to compete against anybody and wasn't trying to do anything illegal.

BLOCK: Sure, well, then, all of a sudden, this became kind of a big deal with you getting shut down, and then the legislature coming in.

WATTS: Yes. People have been so nice, calling, coming by or sending flowers to show us their love and that they was behind us. I just hope that God blessed whoever thought that they was doing us harm because when you do people evil, you know, the Lord turns it around for good.

BLOCK: You're talking about whoever it was who read that article in the paper and then called the Agriculture Department and turned you in, kind of?

WATTS: That's right.

BLOCK: Where are you making your pies now?

WATTS: I go up there to Johnny's.

BLOCK: To the barbecue place?

WATTS: To the barbecue place, yes.

BLOCK: That's got to be kind of a different thing from being in your home kitchen.

WATTS: Yeah, it is, but it's nice, and the room that he has for me, he told me, he said, now, this is your kitchen, and he said, just do like you want to do.

BLOCK: When do you figure you'll be able to start making pies at your house again?

WATTS: Well, soon as this bill probably gets passed. All of my publicity have really helped Rick up there at the barbecue place, his name is Rick Colette. I like it up there so I might just continue to do them up there.

BLOCK: You're getting a little spoiled by that big kitchen, I guess.

WATTS: Yes, I like it.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Watts, it's great to talk with you. Thanks so much.

WATTS: Thank you, hear.

BLOCK: The pie lady of Powder Springs, Georgia, Willie Watts, and if you're ever at Johnny's Barbecue there, one of her fried pies with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon will set you back $2.50.

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