December 2, 2021

Baker never tires of his art

Piece of the pie

Photos by Katie Keyser/living & leisure editor

Kevin Slack works on an apple pie.

Kevin Slack has made pie every day for more than 30 years at his diner, Kory’s Place.

He never tires of the work.

“When you look at what you start with and you look at the end product — it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.

He’s got his customers hooked.

“I became obsessed with it,” said Claire Malcolm of Homer. “I am trying to reproduce the pies. I can’t do it.”

“We literally come here every day because of the pie,” said Johnny Barden of Homer, owner of a truck dealership. “I have probably brought 30 people here in the last four months because of the pie.”


Diners go over easy

Every diner has its own personality, its specialty food and customer base.

See what the area has to offer:
• A.J.’s Family Diner, Port Watson Street, Cortland
• Casper’s, Main Street, Groton
• Cortland Diner, Main Street, Cortland
• Country Kitchen II, Riverside Mall, Cortland
• Steve and Lu’s, South Main Street, Homer
• Cuyler Diner, Cuyler
• Denny’s, River Street, Cortland
• Elm Street Cafe, Elm Street, Tully
• Frank and Mary’s, Port Watson Street, Cortland
• Hyde’s Diner, Homer Avenue, Cortland
• Kory’s Place, Route 281, Homer
• Poole’s Drive-In, Route 13, Truxton
• Reilly’s Cafe, East Main Street, Marathon
• Dryden Queen, North Street, Dryden


Slack, 59, of Homer, owns Kory’s Place with his wife, Debbie and son, Kory, and has been in business “32 1/2 years, four days and 12 hours,” he said. “But who’s counting? Just go with 32. That’s a lot of pie dough.”

EARLY MORNING PIE

On a Thursday in July, he was up to his elbows in flour by 5 a.m. making pies — an apple, peach, three blueberry and a raspberry.

“I will see how the day goes and make some more this afternoon.”

“Do you feel it?” he said of his kitchen. “Do you feel the love?”

“Hold on, I have to check my soup. I cooked a turkey last night. It’s for today’s turkey soup,” he said, looking into a stock pot with celery, onion and carrots.

Slack works six days a week.

‘We decided when we first opened up the business … we still need a family day,” he said. “We’re not open on Sundays.”

He used to work more but is slowing down, getting to work between 4 to 4:30 a.m. and closing the place at 2 p.m.

The diner is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 6 a.m. to noon on Saturday. He does Friday Night Fish Frys September to June.

Yes the work is hard, he said. How he’s sustained this level for decades?

“I don’t really know. If you love what you do, it’s not really work. I have been doing it all my life. I don’t know any better.”

Malcolm recently moved to Homer from the Truxton area. She has friends who eat lunch every day at Kory’s. Malcolm was initially unimpressed with the modest exterior.

“Once you taste the food, it’s a different experience,” she said. “It’s like going back in time. It’s wholesome.”

“Here’s the thing,” Barden said. “We get blueberry pie. I don’t know what Kevin does but it is the best pie I have ever had in my life … it’s like crack. I’ve been coming here maybe four months. I wish I had been coming here for 14 years.”

Slack is also known for his soups, and he provides lunch for SUNY Cortland’s childcare program.

IN THE BEGINNING

“I was working at other places 50 to 60 hours. My wife was in accounting. One day we decided, you bring in what you know. I will bring in what I know. We will have a place for Kory,” he said of his young son at the time. “We put on a nursery for him. All the customers at the diner watched him grow.”

Kory’s Place in Homer.

Slack wasn’t an expert at pies. He was good at prime rib and seafood.

“You can’t have a diner without pie,” he said. It took him a month or two — “messing around with some recipes until I finally got this one” — he said of his crust.

PIE-MAKING TIPS

People think you want to work the pie crust mixture until the flour and butter is pea-sized.

“You don’t have to. The less you work the pie dough, the better — the flakier the crust,” he said.

Use cold water to mix, not luke warm.

“How do I know when I’ve got it mixed enough? I just know.”

Once his apples, sugar and spices are mixed for apple pie, he lets the mixture rest: “Time to get happy.”

He likes Empire apples, or whatever is in season.

After crimping the crust, he put cold water on top of the crust and adds sugar to that. The water keeps the sugar on top, he said. “That’s going to make it glisten.”

And don’t forget to slit the top crust.

“If you don’t let the steam escape, the bottom crust will get soggy,” he said.

BACK TO SLACK’S PIES

Slack never went to culinary school.

“I wanted to but I didn’t. I may still,” he said. “I worked for various Holiday Inns. I worked with several quality chefs and watched them closely.”

He learned a lot of pie-making from his wife, and from her mother.

He offers lemon meringue, coconut cream, banana cream, chocolate cream, seasonal pies — blackberry, elderberry, strawberry rhubarb, mixed berry, mincemeat — and mainstays apple and pumpkin.

Kevin Slack of Homer is known for his tasty pies at Kory’s Place in Homer.

Debbie Slack still helps in the kitchen when her husband has a heavy load, particularly at Thanksgiving when he’s taking pie orders. His daughter, Melissa Marshall works at the diner as well. He has seven staff.

His soups range from tomato basil soup, egg drop soup, vegetable beef, occasionally a lobster bisque, turkey.

“I am very good at making something out of nothing. We have hamburgers every day,” he said.

Any leftover will make it into a hamburger noodle soup.

“In this business, you can’t have any waste,” he said.

100 THINGS AT ONCE

A typical day: “I have the chicken cooling for chicken and biscuit for the college,” he said.

He preps for the day care meal and that day’s special, makes the pies and soup in the morning.

“I am very good at doing 100 things at once. I will have so many different things going at one time. And all of a sudden it comes together.”

Slack covers the grill from 6 to 7 a.m. At 7 a.m., his short order cook comes in.

“He’s a godsend: Bruce Geist. I don’t know what I would do without him,” Slack said.

Slack has a “For Sale” sign on his diner, admitting he’d like to retire — to just making pies and soups.

Still, he’s been in business so long, his customers have become part of the family.

“I can tell who comes in the door, because it’s the same time every day,” he said. “Then there’s times they don’t come in. You get worried. If they don’t come in for a couple of days, I call and make sure they are OK. It’s all part of the love that goes on here.