A Profile: Honoring Family Traditions by Fulfilling Her Dream
What’s more American than apple pie? A family-owned business! It was her family’s history of entrepreneurship that led Angela “Angie” Scott to start (or perhaps re-start) Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop in Monroe. Her eatery – nestled in a beautiful, heavily wooded section of Amherst County on Virginia 130 – is housed in a small, two-story, white-washed building that was constructed by her parents and grandparents nearly 70 years ago. The simple facade with its flat roof and candy-striped awning, unadorned picture windows and iconic Coca-Cola signage evoke a nostalgia for by-gone country stores. Upon entering the establishment, one is struck by the friendly, door’s-always-open spirit exuded by the owner and her mother, who was sitting in a corner in the café.
Scott’s parents, James and Mary Fannie Woodruff, owned and operated a grocery and general store for 30 years (1952-82) in the very building she uses for her restaurant today, minus the renovations and kitchen upgrades. It was her grandfather, Walter Woodruff, a farmer and landowner who suggested her parents build and open the store. “He noticed neighborhood children would cluster along this bend in the road before continuing further down the hill to catch the school bus,” Scott said. “At first, my grandfather just wanted to provide shelter for the students when it rained. Then, he saw an opportunity for something bigger.”
How happy the children must have been to use the store as their safe harbor. This section of Elon Road is narrow and treacherous, ascending and descending at surprising turns as the Virginia byway winds from U.S. 11 to its intersection with Amherst Highway. Walter Woodruff gave his son and daughter-in-law $1,000 to start the business. “They used his investment to stock their store to the brim with such commodities as ice cream, candy, milk, eggs and even cotton batiste handkerchiefs,” Scott said with a chuckle. “When they started in the 1950s, a case of cornflakes sold for $2.50.”
Mary Fannie, Angela Scott’s mom, ran the store while her father, James Woodruff, continued his full-time job at Glay Morgan Pipe Foundry in Lynchburg. “Dad would walk down Perch Road right here off Elon to the James River, get in a boat, row across, then get out and walk to the plant every day, for years. And when needed, he also helped my grandfather on his farm.”
Mary Fannie and James Woodruff were childhood friends. They attended Chestnut Grove School. They were educated to the seventh grade. “It was the 1920s during the Jim Crow era,” Scott shared. “Most children of color in this area – African American or Native American – were educated by and in the churches where they worshipped.” Now, at 103 years of age, Mary Fannie still comes to Woodruff’s Store to greet customers or be of help to her daughter. She sits at a table near the back and stamps and assembles the waxed cardboard boxes used to pack Woodruff’s nationally famous pies before patrons arrive to pick-up their order. Each pie is handmade from scratch, every day, by a coterie of staff. Angela Scott’s commitment to quality and attention to detail is sacrosanct.
“Our product bears my family’s name. It’s important the food be the very best it can be,” Scott said with conviction. No wonder items on their menu are legendary. The variety of pies offered varies by season: pecan, coconut custard, chocolate méringue, lemon chess, fresh apple, fried apple and caramel apple crumb. The mouthwatering list makes one long for a sample.
“Like any business, my family’s store went through its ups and downs.” Scott expounded detailing some of the highlights and lowlights that bookended eras of social change during the mid-to-late 20th century. “My siblings and I were always taken care of,” she said. “My family wasn’t poor, but we weren’t rich either. We were happy.” Scott concluded, “My parents worked hard.”
When Scott’s parents retired, Woodruff’s Store closed. Over the next decade, the building they left behind was used off and on for various family-owned commercial operations. After attending a family reunion with her father’s relations in 1996, Scott discovered details she never knew about her great grandfather, Wyatt Woodruff’s life. A freed slave, he was an enterprising man who through wit and determination acquired land and started his own blacksmith shop. The newfound knowledge rekindled her own dream.
“I was in the restaurant business and loved it. Learning about my great grandfather’s entrepreneurship and recalling my parents’ success as store owners gave me the courage to open my business.”
Her vision? A specialty shop and café. “My plan was to offer farm-to-table products locally produced.” But the start-up process was scary to her. “I borrowed money. Of course it wasn’t enough. There were so many impediments. Opening [the store] was a nightmare.”
During the summer of 1997, as she was getting her business established, her dad became ill. “We didn’t know what it was,” Scott said. They soon learned it was lung cancer. That same week her brother died of a massive heart attack. Angela Scott conveyed these traumatic events without embellishment or self-pity. A serious, middle-aged woman who looks younger than her years, Scott speaks in an understated manner. Her calm is evidence of the Christian faith she professes, an abiding hope in a loving Savior. As she was undergoing this period of personal trial, her business pressures mounted. There were challenges with financing, inspectors, renovations and suppliers. However, she persevered. Finally, Scott opened Woodruff’s Store, in its latest manifestation, August 10, 1998.
“My father died September 4th that same year,” she said with restrained emotion. “Dad knew how hard it was to run a small business. Throughout my store’s start-up, he was the voice of realism. He got to see the store reopened.”
The decade of lean years that followed did not shake her resolve to keep her store going. “God made a way,” Angela Scott declared. “The customers with us from the beginning were beautiful. I began to see them as an extension of family.” Just before Scott thought austerity would be her norm, something unexpected happened that changed her store’s fortunes.
“A Southern Living reporter wandering around the area stopped by. Through the picture window I saw a woman taking pictures of our building. I went out to greet her, invited her in, and gave her some pie. She took a few more photos then left. A year later, I received in the mail the published article of her travels through Amherst County. In it was a two-sentence reference to my café.” The author’s plug was the spark of recognition Scott’s business needed.
“It was like mana from heaven,” Scott said. “Her endorsement changed everything. Orders started flooding in.” Since that auspicious occurrence, Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop have been featured in local, regional and national news outlets several times.
Angie’s advice to people interested in starting a small business? “Capital. Capital. Capital,” she repeated with a rueful laugh. “Have enough money to do what is needed. Make sure the business is something you really want to do, because the beginning will be tough going.” When Angela Scott started her store, she had a vision, a passion, a plan and a family tradition of entrepreneurship dating back to her great grandfather. “Still,” she said, “I had so much to learn.”
Scott’s interview was completed in late February, before the coronavirus engulfed our country and the whole world. In a follow-up phone call, she shared how Governor Northam’s mandate requiring closure of all non-essential businesses has affected her and the café.
“My husband, Larry, and I had to lay off all but one employee. I didn’t want to, but we had to. Larry, a musician, lost all of his gigs. Now he and I manage customer orders while our remaining employee works one day a week.” The disruption resulting from the pandemic forced Woodruff’s Store Café and Pie Shop to offer only curbside service. “We put a table in front outside so customers don’t have to enter the building. They call, place their order and let us know when they’re on their way. We box their pie(s) – whole, not sliced – and wave to them from inside the store when we see them pickup their purchase.” Wouldn’t it have been easier to close? “No,” Scott said. “Pies are comfort food. People want to be comforted right now.”
And her mother, Mary Fannie, how is she faring during these perilous times? “Mama is doing well. She’s bored being home all day. She wants to be busy. We’re considering letting her return to the store a day or two each week,” Scott said. “That way, she can be the one to wave to customers when they pick up their orders.” On every pie box stamped by Mary Fannie Woodruff is the inscription, Psalm 34:8. A quick reference of the scripture passage tells you everything one needs to know about Angela Scott, the Woodruff family and the legacy Scott desires to leave to her customers near and far: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.”