Gum Tree Pies’ newest Wodonga-based store has been greeted with vast enthusiasm, not least because of its unusual location.
A train carriage isn’t what normally comes to mind when you think of pie stores, but for Melinda and Sebastian Nedziak this has proved to be the perfect location for Gum Tree Pies’ newest shopfront.
The husband and wife team behind popular Victorian pie business, Gum Tree Pies, which also has stores in Bright, Beechworth and Yackandandah, say they never planned to open a fourth store. However, after recent COVID lockdown restrictions made it obvious a large proportion of their clientele came from the Albury-Wodonga area it became clear the demand was there in the area.
“We thought why not look at having just a small takeaway outlet in Wodonga where people could come and grab some pies when they want them,” Melinda says.
So the search got underway and it didn’t take long before the couple stumbled across the perfect spot in a newly built urban space located in the former railway station and rail yards in central Wodonga.
“The old train station at Wodonga has been turned into a hub called Junction Place. They’ve got the platform that has a restaurant and café in there, and opposite that there’s a pub and they’ve put shipping containers in at the front where they’ve got a café and an ice creamery and an Italian eatery,” Melinda says.
“When we contacted them about the possibility of going into one of the shipping containers we found out none of them were available, but the owner said he’d had some replica train carriages made and to come and have a look at them.”
It turned out to be love at first sight, and so Melinda, Sebastian and the Gum Tree Pies crew got to work transforming one of the carriages into the perfect pie shop.
Although the retail space was on a much smaller scale than they were used to working with, Melinda says she and Sebastian are incredibly happy with the outcome and the public reception has seconded this opinion.
“It’s a great little spot and everyone is very excited. People were initially a bit hesitant because they like the regional stores in the tourist towns and a lot of people like the drive to get to them. People like the experience of going and having lunch there and then grabbing a cold pack of pies to bring home,” Melinda says.
“But there are a lot of people who now can’t do that, or who don’t want to do that. What we found was there were a lot of people in Albury-Wodonga who can’t take the take to drive out to Beechworth or to Bright or to Yackandandah so they are really happy to be able to just pop out and grab them whenever they wanted to.”
So what is it about the Gum Tree Pies range that has created such a loyal customer base?
Melinda thinks it may have something to do with the fact each option in their range has been carefully considered and tested by the whole team, and then is crafted by hand using quality ingredients at the Yackandandah store before being sent out cold to the other Gum Tree Pies premises to either be baked onsite or packaged up into take home cold packs.
“We have never skimped on our ingredients and we’ve never cut corners. We find the best possible product we can to put into each of our pies,” Melinda says.
“Each pie is made by hand. Our fillings are mixed in 20L pots and each pot is cooked by hand and every pie is filled by hand. Each filling is tasted as it cooks. It’s quality control at its finest because there is always somebody who is working on the product individually.”
There are currently 13 pies in the Gum Tree Pies range, including one lamb, three chicken, two vegetarian, and eight beef options. But it takes a lot for a new pie flavour to make the cut and be added to the permanent menu.
A trained chef by trade, Melinda says Sebastian bring a lot of ideas to the table.
“He’s Polish and so he’s got a lot of flavour ideas from Poland – a lot of stews and things like that – and then he lived and trained in Greece, so there’s that element too. And he actually cooked Thai food when we had our café, so that’s where he got a few of the Thai ideas from,” Melinda says.
“Most of it’s just come from him and also seeing what other pies are popular. We always come out with new ideas. We’d love to do a Bologense pie or a Thai prawn pie, or a Massaman pie. Pretty much every time we eat out and we try something cool we wonder if we could do something like that in a pie. But it’s been quite a while since we’ve added a new flavour.”
With the doors to the fourth Gum Tree Pies store officially opened in December 2020,Melinda says they are working at maximum capacity, and no plans for further expansion are on the horizon.
“It’s hard to keep the level of quality control we have if you scale up the business, and we never wanted to move production offsite,” Melinda says.
“When we bought the old butcher shop at Yackandandah and turned it into a pie shop we put a big expansion out the back with a walk-in cool room and freezers and prep rooms. What we’re producing now is maximum capacity and we cannot do any more.
“We’re still surprised at how much people love our pies and we’re really grateful for all our customers. It’s still crazy for us that we were able to open up a new venue at time when many others were having to close up.”