Savory Simon Hubig, son of Alsatian Immigrants to Newport, Kentucky
In preparing for an upcoming trip to New Orleans and Gulf Shores, the first thing I investigated was the iconic foods of the area. New Orleans is a food city by nature, so there’s no lack of great places to sample local cuisine. But, there’s a New Orleans local iconic pie brand, Hubig’s, that has been making turn-over style fried pies since 1921. Unfortunately a fire destroyed their factory in 2012. Three years later the owners are still squabbling over whether to bring back the pies, while loyal customers are left with a huge hole in their sweet-tooths.
NOLA residents might think of Hubig’s pies as a local institution, much like the po boy, the muffaletta, or the beignet, but Hubig’s actually starts right here in Greater Cincinnati. So what NOLA advertises as ‘New Orleans-style pies’ are actually Newport, Kentucky-style. Hubig’s parents, Katharina and Simon immigrated to Newport, Kentucky in the 1850s from Alsace Lorraine, along with a huge wave of other peasants who were suffering from famine, and the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. The interesting thing is that they likely landed in New Orleans, and took a steamboat up the Mississippi to Newport, like hundreds of their wearied countryfolk. Actually kinda of funny – this is exactly how my Kreb’s ancestors landed and travelled and one of the reasons I’m going to New Orleans, to trace their steps to Newport, Kentucky. Like my ancestors, the Hubigs were Catholics and became members of St. Stephen’s German Catholic Church in Newport, who’s cemetery provides the final repose for the piemaking family.
Savory Simon was born in 1860, in Newport, Kentucky, and four years later his mill-working father died. Simon and his brothers helped his mother operate a bread baking business for Newport housewives. His industriousness allowed him to become foreman by age fifteen, and in 1890 at age 30, he opened Hubig Pie & Baking Company at 510 West Fifth Street in Cincinnati. He patented a pie oven that could produce over 30,000 pies a day, a capacity larger than any other producer in the U.S. Hubig also developed pie bags and crates that allowed for pies to be shipped longer distances for the first time.
Hubig became president of the local National Association of Master Bakers, and was a powerful lobbyist to the federal government on issues like egg , flour, and wheat pricing.
His business became so successful, that in 1910 the U.S. government garnered a deal with him to setup his patented pie making machine in Central America to feed the workers digging the Panama Canal. He retired in 1912 at age 52, selling his business to the F. O. Stone Baking company.
In his retirement and with his money, Hubig became an avid art collector, supporting local Cincinnati artists, like John Retting and others. He even had famous painter Frank Duvenek paint his portrait.
Portrait of Simon Hubig, Jr, by Frank Duvenek
Duvenek painting Hubig in demonstration to his life drawing class – Cincinnati Art Academy
Then, for some reason, Hubig came out of retirement, opening up more bakeries across Texas. The Forth Worth Star-Telegram, reported in 1918 “Simon Hubig, the famous pie man of Cincinnati” had opened more pie shops – in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. The Dallas location was bought by Jack Ruby and operated as a night club before his assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald on national tv. In 1921 Savory Simon Hubig opened in New Orleans at Dauphine Street, and that location was the only one to make it through the Depression. NOLA residents had consumed over 25 million Hubig pies by their seventh anniversary in the Crescent City. The Orleans Parish jail was typically the largest customer.
For $1 a pie you could choose among sweet potato, pineapple, peach, strawberry, lemon, coconut, chocolate, blueberry, apple and banana. Mince pie was a popular variety in the early days, but dropped later as it’s taste fell out of favor.
Hubig died in 1926, but left a legacy that New Orleans would make their own. In 1943 Henry Barrett took over from the Hubig family and struggled through World War II with the family and employees using their own sugar rations to keep the business afloat. Still owned by Barrett’s nephew and the son of Henry Barrett’s original partner, Otto Ramsey, Hubigs was putting out 28,000 fried pies a day before the fire.
While NOLA residents wait for Hubig’s to return other companies like Windowsill and Butcher have popped up, but they’re just not the same. And little do they know, they have an Alsatian woman – Savory Simon’s mother, Katharina Hubig, from Newport, Kentucky, to thank for their iconic pie. I wonder if she also served goetta alongside her fried pies.