Serial entrepreneur Martin Dewey has grown sales at Square Pie by 35% in 2013. He tells Aaron Morby about his plans to double the business in size.
What is it? Square Pie started out as a homegrown business selling from a small stall in London's Spitalfields market around 12 years ago. Since selling seven pies on day one, the London-based handmade pie business has set about challenging the traditional pie's unhealthy image while turning its square pies into a nutritional, comfort food brand.
The company operates out of four London sites: a flagship Spitalfields restaurant, the Westfield shopping malls in Hammersmith and Stratford, and the ExCel exhibition centre in the Docklands, as well as the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.
What makes it different? Square Pie is not the first and nor will it be the last to try to build on the great British pie-eating tradition. Its trademark pie shape, born from the idea that the pies would fit more easily into fridges, has helped to set the business apart from a scrum of rivals in the capital.
But the masterstroke has been transforming the humble pie into a gourmet, healthy-eating option with a selection of classic and modern flavours. Square Pie has whittled down a long list of recipes to 10 favourites, including steak and Guinness, spinach, feta and sweet potato, and lamb and rosemary.
Square Pie likes to talk openly to an ever-more savvy public about nutritional content, and proudly highlights the calorie content of each pie alongside information about its additive-free, natural ingredients. A skinny pie, made with just a pastry topping, weighs in at just over 300 calories, nearly half of its encased alternatives.
Square Pie will also travel for special events, and this summer it crafted a shepherd's pie with a Square Pie twist for the Rolling Stones ahead of their performance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. The firm sold 25,000 pies during the course of the event. This pie-fest was topped by the Olympics, where it managed to sell 150,000 pies.
Who is in charge? The Square Pie brand is the brainchild of 44-year-old Martin Dewey. The entrepreneur is a serial job-jumper, confessing to 70 jobs, including running a reggae band and several internet start-ups. When he decided he didn't want to work for other people any more, Dewey hit on the idea of making a decent pie during a long lunch with a friend, and built the business from there.
With calorie counts on all pies, Square Pie has shrugged off the historical male bias and opened up the market to equal proportions of men and women. "Square Pie serves all ages, although teenagers tend not to be big eaters," he says.
Its approach to customers is all about ease and convenience, and pies are available baked or unbaked from its shops to enjoy at home. "Basically, the British still love pies, even when temperatures match those in the south of France," says Dewey. "It's just a question of meeting the tastes of modern customers." he firm also offers wholesale pies for functions and weddings.
Step change Leading design agency Pentagram rebranded the business earlier this year, opening the way for more ambitious growth. The redesigned menus now offer a wider selection of comfort food, bringing baked potatoes, beef stew and sausage and mash to the mix.
Canapies, a mini two-bite pie costing just £1.50, are a new innovation that allow customers to pick and mix from a selection of fillings.
The business makeover is already paying its way, with around a third of sales coming from new lines introduced this summer.
Growth plans Sales in 2013 are up 35% on last year. With Dewey forecasting turnover almost doubling next year, Square Pie should pass the £4m turnover mark. He is talking about opening a string (he hates the word chain) of 20 shops by 2017, but says that amount is not set in stone.
The expansion will naturally extend the business outside its London stronghold, with the next new shop due to open next year at Birmingham's new Grand Central Station.
Square Pie now uses a central production unit outside London that should soon be producing about half a million pies a year.
Funding The business recently attained funding through "good business angels" the Enterprise Investment Scheme and current shareholders. Dewey remains open-minded to alternative future funding, but prefers a steady, sure-footed journey to expansion.
Will it work? Square Pie's growth has been steady and the business is not short of ideas, as its pop-ups prove. Dewey wants to avoid trendy concepts, preferring instead the idea of quality comfort food as a treat. The wholesale business offers a good opportunity as the brand strengthens.
Competition remains the biggest challenge, and talk of David Beckham and Gordon Ramsay entering the arena with a pie and mash chain seems a significant threat, but equally, the move may do more for the humble pie's image than a big ladle of parsley sauce liquor.