Tuck Shop Pies is the joint-venture between Ryan McLeod and Olivia Fowler, two expats from New Zealand who, after missing foods they had enjoyed back home, decided to bring their favorite pies to Shanghai and to make them all from scratch. I asked them a few questions about their business and what it takes to sling pies in Shanghai. Check out what they had to say.
What inspired you to start Tuck Shop Pies? One of my good friends from NZ swears by Georgie Pie and says it’s one of the things he misses most from home.
Georgie Pie is such a New Zealand trademark, you gotta love it! To be honest I’m a bit of a pie snob! In my opinion the best pies are from small bakeries in small towns around NZ. My mum lives in the Wairarapa where there is the ultimate small town bakery called Gusto, where they do amazing lamb and mint jelly pies and have loads of other unique flavours. This is where we got the inspiration for the Welsh Day pie. “The BP” pie, which is Chicken Curry, is a take on the Tulsi butter chicken pie from the BP service station in NZ. Basically, our inspiration for Tuck Shop Pies was to bring classic gourmet pies to Shanghai, with unique and delicious flavours. Once we finally mastered our pastry (a make or break for any pie), we could really have fun with the fillings. Recently we introduced the Chicken Cranberry and Brie pie and called it “The Pizza” as ‘Hells Pizza’ in New Zealand was the inspiration. Also “The Traditional”, Minced Beef and Cheddar Cheese is a slightly fancier version of everyone’s favourite Mince and Cheese Pie.
How much of a jump was it from your previous jobs/careers to starting your own venture?
I was working in marketing and Ryan still teaches golf and English. We both started making the pies at night in our spare time on a VERY small scale. When the orders started increasing we decided I should take the plunge and quit my marketing job in order to give the business a real shot. I would do all the cooking and Ryan would pick up all the groceries and deliver all the pies. We had never really thought about starting our own business, we just happened to stumble upon something we were really passionate about and all of a sudden, being entrepreneurs was doable.
What is the main concept behind Tuck Shop Pies — why Shanghai?
Tuck Shop Pies’ philosophy is to produce the best quality pies by New Zealand/Australian standards using fresh, quality ingredients, great recipes and a mix of traditional and unique techniques. All the pies are made by hand and the pastry is hand-risen – this point is integral to the Tuck Shop Pies concept. I think the worst thing we could do, would be to start making the pies with huge machines like they do with some other types of pies. There is a massive difference in NZ between the quality of small scale and large pies.
Do you think that the expat community is large enough to keep your business thriving?
Yes definitely!! So far we are only in 2 cafés, 1 pub and 1 online supermarket – and there are lots more. So things are going well and we are really excited!
Do you feel pressure to cater to Chinese tastes or is that something you are interested in exploring? Are we going to see a sweet mayonnaise and pork floss pie soon?
No pressure yet but I am constantly thinking about new flavours. When we do a Chinese flavour pie it will have to be something expats like too! I want to do a BBQ pulled pork pie but Ryan thinks we should do a Sichuan Pepper beef pie. Mayonnaise and pork floss could definitely work. I’m going to do some testing next week so I’ll try it out!
Is it difficult to source ingredients that you feel are integral to the pies authenticity?
So much easier than you would think! New Zealand is one of China’s biggest suppliers of fresh dairy produce, so there is plenty of good quality NZ butter, milk, cream, cheese and meat. We brought a huge leg of NZ lamb the other day and it was actually cheaper here than in NZ. In saying that we do have to go to around 4 different shops to find everything we need.
What are some challenges, if any?
Language barrier has recently become a bit of an issue. At the beginning we were only dealing with our vendors who all speak English. Now I am talking to the kaui di’s and my new pastry chef and they just laugh at me when I try to speak Chinese.
Lastly do you have any plans for the future like expansion to more vendors, or even opening your own store front?
Recently we moved all the cooking to a proper bakery so there are more people helping me cook. This is awesome because it means we can increase production and focus on expanding to more vendors around Shanghai and letting more people try our pies. It also means I am able to try out new flavours and get creative, which is my favourite part. I am obsessed with making a steak, caramelized onion and blue cheese pie so you will probably be seeing that very soon! Still not sure about a store front… What are your thoughts?
Tuck Shop Pies are current available at The Pantry, Sumerian, The Tap House, on kateandkimi.com, and on Sherpas.com with The Pantry.
Check out their website for more information about placing large orders.
By Noelle Albert
Noelle Albert is a contributor for Shanghaiist’s Food Desk. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates to [email protected]!