Interview with Tai Tai Pie Pies
Tai Tai Pi Pies, taitaipiepies.com
What inspired you to create Tai Tai Pie Pies, and when did you launch?
Tai Tai Pie Pies was all based on my passion for pies and my friends who enjoyed them. They were constantly telling me I should sell them here in Hong Kong.
My love of pies stems from a great upbringing with a mother and grandmother who made amazing, sweet pies for me when I was a child.
After I left the corporate world I took some time off and relaxed. I was baking for fun and friends were calling me a Tai Tai - that is where is it all began with the name! My wife and I then did some market research and we realized there are not many pies places out here in Hong Kong. On June 28, 2010 we founded the company and we had our official launch in October. It was held at the AWA Holiday Bazaar and Thanksgiving 2010 was our first big Pie Week.
How long did it take to get the business of the ground?
It started as a small business in our house, and not until we built the bakery in December 2011 did it really become more than a hobby. Making 1 pie at a time it is not really a business, it is a past time. Once we built the bakery it was no longer a hobby but now a viable business. It really took another six months before we got it moving. By Thanksgiving 2012 we were fully operational and made 300 large pies and 100’s of small pies for the holiday. That is when it was on its way!
Tell us about the manufacturing process?
We have a 2500 sq. ft. production bakery that we built and maintain to a very high level. I am a clean freak and maintain an exceptionally clean bakery. We have state of the art equipment that my business partner supplied (from Catering Depot), and we are baking in a production style that is extremely high level. The bakery is in Fo Tan, New Territories, and every item is still made by hand. However, we utilize amazing technology so that we do not need to add preservatives and additives. We bake every item and then blast chill, or shock freeze it. It depends on the use of the items - if they are wholesale or retail. By doing this you are creating a pie that loses none of its taste or texture. We bake six days a week and make deliveries 7 days. We ship to our shops daily. Wholesale deliveries are Monday through Saturday.
Tell about the distribution process - how do you get them to all the locations fresh?
Distribution is daily. We ship either refrigerated or frozen. Wholesale is frozen, but not freezer-frozen, shock frozen! They are frozen in a very short amount of time to avoid the item from being damaged molecularly. It is amazing what these machines can do. The pies in our shops are kept refrigerated. This allows us to keep them fresh without adding preservatives. They have a good shelf life if you do this. In ambient temperatures they will only last a day or two max.
Where do you source ingredients from?
We purchase all our ingredients from local importers. We use USA Gold Medal flour; French butter; USA, Australian and New Zealand meats; fruit from the USA and Europe; brown sugar from the USA; produce from USA, Europe, Australia and a few other locations. I import Key Lime juice myself for our Key Lime pie. You cannot get it here, so as far as I know we are the only ones using Key Lime juice from Key West Florida, USA.
What are the biggest challenges to running this business?
In Hong Kong it is the rental costs of your retail shops; finding talented employees who have the passion you have, and sometimes finding the ingredients you need at the right cost. What is very frustrating is when you hear customers saying what a rip off it is. They consider it too expensive, and you know that the price is actually not -considering what you need to pay for the raw ingredients. Yes, in the USA it would be so much cheaper, but for a high quality item, you get what you pay for. We only use top quality ingredients, so unless we cut the costs out and use cheap ingredients, there is no way to make it cheaper.
What are your go to business mentors in HK?
I have a few I rely on, one is my business partner Jeff Follick, another is a friend who has also started a few F&B startups here in Hong Kong, Jason Black. He is someone who understands Hong Kong tremendously. My go-to person while at home is always my wife, she helps bring me back to reality sometimes, or makes me see what we have accomplished.
How do you promote your pies?
Most of what we have done is via interviews with food writers and then the food markets that are out there. We have given away 1000’s of little pies to get people to try them. That is the best way if they have never tried a pie or our pies.
How big is your team?
Our current team is 11 Staff, with me, 12 in total. We have 6 working in our shops and 5 in the bakery.
What's next for Tai Tai Pie Pies?
We are hoping to launch a Franchise in Singapore and maybe other places. Maybe Korea? If we can get our franchise model out there, that will help a lot. We also want a few more shops in Hong Kong and maybe a few other concepts like a gourmet food line. We definitely want to grow our wholesale line of business here in Hong Kong too.