“Where has this been all my life?” This response is not uncommon when customers take a bite of their first Australian meat pie, say Rob and Renee McNeil, co-owners of the Pie Company at the Squamish Farmers’ Market.
Meat pies are a staple back at their home in Australia and can be found everywhere from corner shops to gas stations. But they’re a scarcity in North America, and when Rob returned home for a short visit, around five years ago, the first thing he did was send Renee a photo of his first meat pie.
At the time, she was working for Whistler Blackcomb and living in staff housing up at Base 2. She had been mulling over how to bring food up to hardworking staff who were reluctant to trek down the mountain at night. The photo of a meat pie inspired a lightbulb moment. “I was like, That’s it, that’s the product! That’s what we need here.”
And when she saw an ad for the Whistler Farmers’ Market in the newspaper, she knew it would be a great way to reach customers.
“At the time, we had no idea how to make a pie,” she laughs. Rob does have a strong kitchen background, though, so while he mastered the filling, she perfected the pastry.
Initially they thought their pies would appeal only to Australians in Whistler, but they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reactions of North Americans. “It definitely reminds everyone of their trip to Australia.”
The success of their business took them a little by surprise, though. At their first market, they sold out by noon. “So we doubled the amount we took the following week and sold out by 1 o’clock,” explains Renee. “That’s when we both thought: We’re on to something here.”
The 2011 season continued to be a success, but they had always planned to move permanently back to Australia. They did move back, got married and had a daughter. “But then we were just like, what are we doing? We had a feeling that we were on to a good thing and wanted to come back and give it a proper go. So we did,” Renee recalls.
They returned in 2013 and, as well as attending Whistler Farmers’ Market, are now at both Squamish and Lonsdale markets, and have a strong retail presence including Nesters and other stores.
They also now have more than a dozen flavours, some of which change seasonally or are customized for events such as the Whistler Beer Festival. Their pies with beer-flavoured fillings are now a regular feature on the Whistler Brewery menu.
Life has always been busy, but when their second child arrived at the start of summer, it’s been another level of busy.
“It took me out of the kitchen,” says Renee, “so Rob’s had to do double time in the kitchen and I’ve had to do double time at home with the kids…. It’s tough not spending time together as a family because you’re putting in so much work around the clock, but hopefully it’s all for the best and it’s all going to pay off. That’s the plan. Between us, we make it work.”
The Pie Company will be at Refresh Market on Nov. 21 and at the Squamish Winter Market periodically.