By Joseph Riverson.
There are two things in life that we cannot easily forget, no matter how hard we try. They are:
- That warm embrace we get from Mama when we need it most, and
- Mama’s hot and tasty homemade meals straight from the oven.
Oh yes! When we heard her wonderful voice calling us in that loving tone: “Lunch is ready”, “Breakfast is ready,” or “Dinner’s Ready”, no matter what time of day it was, we were sure to come running to the table. Especially when it was Mama’s favorite pie with her secret recipe we love.
That memory of her opening the oven, mitts on hand, and bringing out that steaming hot pan with all the delicious and tasty scrumptiousness is a hard memory to erase. That was the exact feeling this reporter had when he bit into the “Beef, Potato and Cheese Pie”, during this Summer’s Strawberry Festival in Burien. That pie led to another one right away, which then led to calling on family and friends to come and try this amazing discovery. A TRUE GEM in Burien, “Australian Pie Company”.
Gem of the Sound sat with Angus Wood, owner, business magnate, and “Chief Meat Pie Connoisseur” of this solid “pillar and staple” in downtown Burien for the past 25 years and counting.
Angus moved to Seattle over 27 years ago from Australia, married his sweetheart, and began a family. After moving, he “missed food from home, and there was nothing like the home-cooked Australian meat pies here.” So, after a while, he thought, “you know, I’ll try and make it myself,” and that began the journey to Australian Pie Company.
Angus says, “The first meat pies I made were pretty ok. They weren’t really good, so I refined them and refined them” and this process of refining birthed recipes and pies, the likes of which we all enjoy from the menu of Australian Pie Company today. In time, Angus’ meat pies began to gain fame. Through cooking for friends and family, the pies began to create a name for themselves. “I have a couple of Australian friends here, and they asked, ‘hey, we heard you’re making meat pies; when are we going to get ours?’ I made them 8-10 pies or so, and they gave some to their neighbors. The neighbors started ordering pies as well, so I had a little tiny business out of my kitchen baking for friends,” Angus added.
With growing requests for this delicacy, Angus prepared and baked quite frequently. “After a while, I was quite busy, and I thought, ‘You know, why don’t I look at opening up a store?’. This location was available and vacant for a long time. The owner and I came up with a workable solution, and we were in business. After selling 6-8 pies on day one, we persevered, stayed with it, and got busier and busier and busier!” Angus revealed.
Angus shared a bit of Australian Meat Pie history. “The Pie really started in the U.K which is a big meat pie culture. In many of the colonial countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and others, a very robust meat pie culture emigrated with the people to these colonial countries. Australians have refined the pie far more than other countries.”
Asked how his customer base took to the introduction of this delicacy, how he overcame the initial challenge of introducing this dish into the community and how he managed to build such a strong following and a business with longevity to have broached the 25-year mark and still keep going, Angus mentions education and consistency as key factors; “I’d say education. Educating the community about your product. And the best way we did that was we had tiny pies we gave away. Also, consistency in your product. When a customer comes back and says, ‘oh, that’s the taste I remember,’ that’s satisfying. In terms of the preparation process, some would say it’s super-boring, but we don’t change it; we prepare it this same way every day. A lot of work goes into keeping it the way it is, and that’s what keeps it unique and special, giving it that homemade, home-cooked feel.”
25 years is an accomplishment, and it’s no wonder Australian Pie Company has been so successful. Staying true to the foundational vision, process, service, and taste has been very instrumental in its success. Indeed, it is to be emulated by all niche-focused restaurants.
Australian Pie Company has also expanded into selling pastries in stores that the community can purchase. “We went into the local Whole Foods. About 15+ years ago, they had just opened the Northwest Region, they had 5 stores in Seattle and maybe 1 or 2 in Oregon,” Angus shared.
The dough is the foundation for both the pastries that go to the stores and the meat pies sold in restaurants; automating the dough-making process has been a vital necessity. “For example, today, we have 2000 pounds of dough to do, and automation has helped us get 50 percent faster at kneading, rolling, cutting and packaging these pastries that goes out to the stores; we have them in stores in Washington and Oregon, then Arizona and California, Alabama, Texas and some of the southern states.” Angus added.
Australian Pie Company has achieved something few are able to achieve; this is a testament to the business acuity, strategic focus, customer, and community-centric approach to their specialty-niche restaurant business. A true Gem in the Sound, after an encounter with their Australian Meat Pie, you are sure to walk away with that taste of home, which will make one go back for more.
“We are passionate about what we do; we love to bake pies, we love to serve, we love to build community, we are part of the community here, and we love to make our products. When customers come to the store, we want them to leave with the feeling of ‘this is one of my favorite places to eat, the food is so tasty, I had a really pleasant experience’. To see the smile on the customer’s face, exclaiming ‘where has this place been?’, and to see different generations enjoying the meals provides fulfillment at work,” Angus concluded.
Do make it a point to visit Australia Pie Company next time you are in downtown Burien!