WE set about building The London Pie (londonpiebangkok.com) from the ashes of The British Pie shop. No moping about and complaining; the wife and I just set about it, bought the bare essentials, and off we went again bootstrapping.
The lesson learned here was how important it is to retain complete control over your business.
Day one of The London Pie saw us with one table, one baking bowl, the household oven from our house in Phuket, and a burning desire to show a band of ex-investors what could be done with Yorkshire grit, Thai grit, something to prove, and a chip on my shoulder large enough to be seen from space on a good day.
Most of the people who had bought pies from us in Phuket and Khao Lak (when we were known as The Shires Pie Company) had become friends down the years. So there was a ready market even before we had relocated the shop to Bangkok on Sathupradit. We really did sleep on the floor for the first few days and worked round the clock to ready the shop for opening. Our first customer in the shop was a lovely South African lady whom I photographed. By a strange quirk of fate, as I walked out of the shop two years later having sold it, the same lady came into the shop, so I again took a photo of us together and hastily left. This made her our first and last customer.
In the Registration office, we just came up with The London Pie for our company name as it rhymed and contained the one word we thought should be in it – London.
We thought we would change it later or trade under another name as and when we came up with one. Happy to say, the name really has taken hold and we’ll be sticking with it, and also the cheap and cheerful branding we cobbled together during those early days.
Bootstrapping is good for the soul I’m told, but for family relationships, health, exercise and general well-being, it is not a design for life.
Our focus from the start was to be a pie shop and to function as such. We’ve never sold beer and have never actively targeted the beer bars and nightlife scene in Thailand. Instead, we’ve worked closely with schools, expat associations (most notably The British Women’s Group and the Australian New Zealand Women’s Group).
I had noticed a few pie producers in Thailand but most seemed to be butcher’s shops with pies almost as a byproduct. There are also a number of bakeries or restaurants making pies on a smaller scale. We produce pies first and foremost and this is the direction of the business for the future. We are a true pie shop in the traditional sense and make over 40 different varieties in various sizes and tailored often to the needs of our customers.
We have traded on word of mouth since we first started and this is my preference. Our growth is rock solid and the quality is never compromised. We use top quality raw materials and as with the iconic ’70s slogan “It’s the fish John West rejects, that make John West Salmon the best” in mind, we meticulously trim our meats and vegetables leaving out anything that is not 100%.
We’re not perfect, even coming from Yorkshire, but we do focus hard on this aspect of the business, much harder than we focus on selling and that’s for sure.
Eggs are bought every day and we maintain a good relationship with the small mom and pop shop. Wherever we have worked this past 10 years we have befriended the nearest shop and asked that the two – four trays of eggs we use every day are of the best quality.
I could never have managed this without my wife of 11 years, Duang. She is not only the major shareholder, she also does the lion’s share of the work, including keeping me in line. Our accountant/shareholder Bubble Bee is also vital in the role of keeping me in check and bombarding me with constant reminders of whom to meet, where to visit, what to pay, what to sign and a whole host of tasks that I “overlook.” I’m not The Memory Man and that’s for sure, so I really appreciate this.
All staff are key staff, but we hired the first two people to walk down Sathupradit who looked like they may be in need of work. One is still with us. Her parents worked for the house next door as housekeeper and driver.
Life is never dull and I have real affection for them all – even my pastry team who appear to have formed a boy band of late and sing all day and all night. We meet, strategise and perform tasks in as western a manner as is possible whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor eating chicken and sticky rice with our hands. No top down big boss style of management from me…The wife’s another matter though and she does occasionally let me have it – as does Bubble Bee, come to think of it.
This approach does bring forth ideas from the staff and this has always been my aim. Make them comfortable enough with me to participate in meetings with real ideas, knowing they are valued and that I am listening and keen to try things their way. Staff turnover? We’ve lost one in three years and that was mainly due to him being happier in Bangkok than Jomtien. I hear horrific tales of staff turnover and believe we have a strategy in place that gives us more stability than our opposition.
The main outlet is The London Pie, Ekamai Soi 4/1, where Neil runs a fantastic café and takeaway service. Well-known to residents of that area and on Food Panda, Neil is currently seeking to expand the operation and this could lead to fresh pies being available in a busier area of Bangkok.
Our former bakery at Sathupradit Soi 19 is still operating as a sales outlet and our full range is available here (or via the facebook page which we share: facebook.com/thelondonpie).
A new kiosk-style bakery has opened in Jomtien. It is undergoing a soft opening, but I’m sure its location directly next to Big C Pattaya is going to keep them busy without advertising and blowing of trumpets.
Points of sale in Bangkok include Dean & Deluca, The Cube, Chong Nonsi; The Clubhouse, Soi 23; Checkers, Sukhumvit Soi 4; Bar Fire & Ice Minburi; the soon to re-open Drunken Duck on Ratchayothin; and behind St. Stephen’s International School.
Pies are also available through Sloane’s at Sukhumvit 105 (outside Bangkok Patana School) and through direct sales into schools and offices.
In Jomtien, our factory is located on Soi Chayapreuk 2. In Pattaya, our pies are available at Celtic Kings, Soi 7; The Devonshire, Soi Lengkhee; Loangs Bistro, Jomtien Second Road (close to Soi 11); and Tropical Bar & Bees Knees, Soi Boonsampan.
The next expansion is going to be the big one. It is underway and most of the pieces of the jigsaw are in place. After 10 years of bootstrapping and word of mouth trading, we are probably going to have to go cap in hand and work with investors who can bring in the experience and money required to operate at that level and control a busy factory.
I never thought I’d say that as we’ve enjoyed growing and are still fiercely independent, but the goal of 20 “outlets” is going to take money. It’s that simple.
Keeping secret our upcoming range of new pies is also challenging as we sometimes have to unleash a couple of them onto regular customers.
My wife, staff, fellow shareholders and backers have this view that only selling pies to people I like or find interesting may have to change. I enjoy the characters I meet and the life stories so much that this will be a real challenge, and I’ve a feeling I could be outvoted on this!
What would I do differently?
Je ne regrette rien. It would be impossible to be in this position if we had done things differently. Without the last break up with the British Pie Shop, I could have been a prisoner to the money men and accountants who were sucking the life out of it anyway.
I love things as they are and have immense pride in twice building a company from the ground up. Some things money just can’t buy – pride, customer loyalty/friendship, and reputation being amongst them.
On the personal level, I’d maybe have settled for less in order to spend more time with my family and on my hobbies, but that is something I have worked to put right with my current move to Jomtien. We do now live in a beautiful part of the Eastern Seaboard and have a great, if raucous family life.