Embracing the taste of home

What do you get when an Aussie girl meets a Canadian boy in the ski town of Whistler? A bakery that specialises in producing authentic Australian meat pies, of course.

When Kerri Jones first travelled to Whistler she was immediately captivated by the mountains, the village and the lifestyle.

An avid snowboarder, she soon decided to stay on for another ski season. Kerri said she knew she’d miss her family and friends, but it was how much she missed the humble meat pie that took her by surprise.

However, a chance encounter with her now husband, Alex Relf, at the pub one Sunday helped solve that problem.

The Peaked Pies exterior

The Peaked Pies exterior

The initial idea

“We met in Whistler and, after seeing how many Australians were here, I couldn’t believe Whistler didn’t have an Aussie pie shop,” Kerri said.

That first day Kerri made an off-hand comment about longing for a truly Aussie meat pie, and Alex baked her one.

Although it wasn’t quite right, according to Kerri, the first foundations were laid for what would eventually become Peaked Pies.

“Alex had gone to Camosun College and studied Culinary and Restaurant Management and has a natural talent and passion for cooking,” she said.

Although not a baker by trade, Alex said he loves creating different recipes and being in the kitchen.

“I grew up in a household that respected good quality homemade food. My mother would always be making our meals from scratch using fresh, organic ingredients. My Babushka (baba) was always making borscht and fruit tarts,” he said.

“The way all our pies have taken shape is that I would describe the look, taste and texture and Alex would make his version from that. It took five tries to get our Traditional Aussie recipe to what it is today,” Kerri added.

“The first one he made was like spaghetti bolognese in a pie; delicious but not what a plain pie should taste like. It was a funny process. We also had our Aussie expat friends in Whistler come over for constant taste tests. We were a popular house for dinner.”

In 2013 Kerri and Alex decided they were ready to open their first Peaked Pies store. They had a business plan, recipes and just needed to find the perfect space.

Perfecting the recipe for success

Kerry said they knew from the outset they didn’t want to open in the farmers’ markets, as they wanted to create their own piece of Whistler that was more permanent.

The duo scouted the town and eventually settled on a location in the Whistler village that was known locally as the “cursed location” due to the number of restaurants that came and went there. However, it was small, had hood venting for a restaurant and the price was right.

Alex said before opening he and Kerri sat out the front and people watched many times to try and gather data about the foot traffic that passed by. The result? Not much, and so they planned accordingly.

When the doors to the first store opened the initial plan was for Kerri to serve customers while Alex worked in the kitchen.

“We didn’t hire any staff, which turned out to be our first business mistake,” Alex said.

“We had a line-up out the door and down the street on the first day. We had to close on day two to regroup, hire a full team immediately and reopen the following day to another huge crowd,” Kerri said.

“It was an instant success. We were just so thrilled that everyone loved the pies and constantly said it reminded them of home.”

Another barrier the duo faced was the lack of knowledge about what Australian pies actually are. In fact, Alex said when Kerri first said they should open a pie shop he thought she was crazy.

“I had thought straight away she meant fruit pies. Meat pies are definitely not in the normal Canadian vocabulary,” he said.

A consistent patron base made up from countries like Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa helped out, and Kerri said once the Canadians try a meat pie they are often hooked too.

Peaked Pies being created

Peaked Pies being created

That being said, the inclusion of some sweet, fruit-based pies were necessary on the Peaked Pies menu.

Alex said it was common for Canadians to come into the store after dinner expecting to see an array of dessert pies.

“We do make fruit pies. They [Canadians] usually buy one of the fruit pies and come back the next day for a meat pie,” he said.

“We have stuck to the old-fashioned originals you will find in any Aussie pie shop, such as the steak and mushroom; steak, bacon and cheese; traditional Aussie – the plain pie as it’s known Down Under – and chicken, mushroom and leek,” Kerri said.

“We usually have about 12 different flavours on the menu, with seasonal pies such as steak and Guinness; and turkey cranberry at Christmas. But there is a pie that was a special feature that has become a staple on our menu – The Hopper. Since customers kept asking if the Traditional Aussie [pie] was with kangaroo we decided to create a kangaroo pie as a bit of fun. We use a wild kangaroo with a cabernet merlot balsamic reduction.

“We only planned to serve that pie for a month until we had so many disappointed customers coming back in to ask about the kangaroo pie.”

Planning for the future

Peaked Pies stores two and three soon followed after Kerry and Alex had customers specifically driving to Whistler for their pies. What’s more the third store was also built with a commissary kitchen included so the duo could expand and bring Peaked Pies across British Columbia and Canada.

Looking to the future, Kerri and Alex said their business plans now included franchise options.

“Introducing meat pies to the Canadian market has not been easy, but when you meet new people who ask what you do for work and you reply ‘I own a little restaurant called Peaked Pies’ and they get really excited… it is the best feeling in the world,” Kerri said.

“Our mission statement from the beginning was to create a place that became a destination in itself, where people would travel to come and get a taste of home.”

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