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While the meat pie may not be as American as its apple-filled cousin, one quick-service entrepreneur is betting on the Australian street-food staple to become the next big thing in U.S. quick service.
Wayne Homschek is CEO of Pie Face, a meat-pie concept that opened its first location in Sydney, Australia, in 2003 and now has 72 locations Down Under. The first U.S. Pie Face opened in January in Midtown Manhattan, and five more are scheduled to open before the end of the year. By the end of 2013, Homschek plans to have 16 Pie Face locations up and running in New York City.
The meat pie—in its traditional form, nothing more than a hand-sized pie filled with meat—does inspire strong emotions in other parts of the world, however. New South Wales Premier Bob Carr once claimed it to be Australia’s “national dish,” while New Zealand also considers it part of its culinary heritage. The hearty, self-contained meal traces its origin, like Australia, back to working-class England and is usually sold in mom and pop bakeries or at street vendors at all hours of the day.
At least one industry watcher shares Davies’ attitude. Kathy Hayden, a foodservice analyst with market research firm Mintel, is skeptical that meat pies will challenge burgers, pizza, or burritos in the quick-service space anytime soon. “As far as a potential meat-pie franchise explosion, I think it’s just one guy running with it,” Hayden says. “I don’t see any other potential chains ramping up.”
“From the moment that we came up with this idea, I was going to bring it back to the United States,” Homschek says with an adopted Australian accent. “That was my whole intention from the start.” Eventually, Homschek says, he began to hear “murmurings” about savory pies catching on in the U.S., and he decided “it was time we got in gear and got ourselves over here.” Pie Face’s branding is what Homschek describes as “quirky, irreverent, cool,” with an emphasis on high-quality food. The name of the company alludes to actual faces drawn in gravy and baked onto the surface of its pies. The pies’ various smiles, Homschek explains, let people know what is inside; a V-shaped smile, for example, marks a vegetarian pie.