Exclusive Interview With A Pie Thing
Making its way back onto the scene of being one of the best dessert cafes in Uptown Damansara, if it ever left, is none other than A Pie Thing.
We sat down with one of the owners of A Pie Thing, Alex Yeo, to understand the starting of the unique business and how it has been doing over the last 4-5 years. Oh, and of course we had to try the delicious and scrumptious pies!
1. Has opening A Pie Thing always been a dream of yours?
Starting a business has always been a dream of mine. But at that time, 5 years ago when we started this business there was a cafe trend.
Joining The Hype
There were a lot of cafes opening especially in Uptown, so a few friends of mine decided to join in the hype and come up with a cafe as well.
We didn’t want to do something normal, so we decided to try to be a bit different. That’s why we wanted to specialise in pies.
We were actually quite inspired by the pies in Australia as well as the UK. Previously before us, there were no pie shops specialising in pies here. But in Australia and UK, it was actually quite common.
2. The course that you took in university, did it help with, starting an F&B business?
Actually, I did a bachelor of arts, majoring in communication and international studies. I did it at Monash University where I spent 2 years here, and a year in Melbourne.
One Way Lead To Another
The course didn’t directly help in terms of what I studied, but the fact that I actually managed to study in Australia made me exposed to pies.
There were 3 of us (business partners/friends), one of them was my schoolmate and the other was a friend of my schoolmate. That’s how we got to know each other.
3. How does A Pie Thing bake such creative and tasty pies?
Google & Instincts
Google! None of us were from the F&B background, but there were also a lot of restaurants and cafes that were quite inspiring to us because they were opened by people who were not from the F&B industry as well.
We thought that if they can do it, we can also do it. We relied on our instincts, our own taste buds, and Google, obviously.
The thing is, my other 2 partners, they are better at cooking as they liked to cook since they were young. So, they were more familiar with making the pies.
We just experimented every weekend because all of us had full-time jobs back then, so we met once a week to try out recipes and make sure that we were happy with the product before we put it on the menu.
4. How has the F&B business been treating you so far? Have you made any loyal customers?
Ups and downs. Of course, when we first started, it was quite good, in terms of the response we received. There were daily queues every day and the response was really overwhelming during the first one, two years.
Introduction of GST
It stabilized and after that, we went through the introduction of the GST. Then the ringgit also depreciated during our opening. So during those times, we could feel that the sales started to decrease because people were more careful with how they spent their money.
Our product is not like a necessity, yes, you need to eat but you could always eat something cheaper. So our products suddenly became like a luxury item, although we did not intend for that to happen.
We didn’t want it to be for the mass market as we knew it was not for everybody. The pies were slightly more premium, but at the same time, it was not luxurious as well. So we wanted to make it somewhere in the middle.
But, during those times, people were more careful with their money and this made them not want to spend so much, therefore they started to eat at home more and go for cheaper alternatives.
There were times where things weren’t so great, and we were trying to balance it. But right now, I can say that we managed to stabilize it, despite the setbacks.
5. What is the biggest difficulty for you that comes with having an extensive pie menu?
The difficulty for our concept is managing the supply and demand because everything is made in advance. Unlike other restaurants, when people order, they will start to cook the food. So, you can manage your stock much easier.
Struggles in Managing Stock & Wastage
For us, for example, “What happens if you over baked too many pies for the day, or what happens if you under bake. Therefore, we had to rely on our own experiences to gauge the demand.
On weekends, we’ll have a certain amount of pies ready, because we don’t want to disappoint people who come here and then there are no pies left, however, at the same time, we don’t want to have any pies leftover.
Because you can actually tell the difference between a fresh pie and a day old pie. Therefore we don’t want to sell overnight pies that will compromise our quality.
The previous problem we had was managing the wastage. Until today we don’t get it to spot on, because it is not exactly the same from week to week. However, you can roughly estimate from last week’s amount.
The Changing Trends
We’ll always have backup/standby pies in the kitchen, where my full-timer can pop them into the oven if the pies would sell out early. It took us about two years plus just to stabilise, because of the demand fluctuating.
At our peak, we had to make a much larger amount of pies and the trend kept changing.
6. Is there anything that you would want to improve in A Pie Thing?
There are a lot of things that I want to improve. I definitely feel that there is so much more room for improvement. In terms of our product offering, we could always introduce more, and freshen things up.
As you know we have been opened for 5 years already and for any restaurant, I would say maybe every 2 – 3 years, you need to have a facelift, either in terms of the renovation, or the menu.
If you don’t freshen up then customers may go to another restaurant as they get bored with your brand. We have not been the best in that (change), I admit, due to several circumstances.
Such as managing our operations and things like that, it could also be down to our lack of experience also, because as I said, none of us were from the F&B background and this is our first business.
We learned a lot from it because we had to manage our day to day problems, however, this took up our time from planning our face-lift.
Therefore I would say that this is the main issue we would like to improve on. Previously talking about the wastages, we would also want to create a better system for managing the wastages as well.
7. What do you think makes you different from all the other food establishments here in Uptown, or even in Malaysia?
Our Pies Of Course!
I would say our main selling product, which is our pies. Because nobody else is actually doing that. That would be our main differentiator.
We don’t like to put other cafes as a competition, but at the end of the day, we have to, because, at the end of the day, people can always choose to eat something else.
8. Are you currently working on anything other than A Pie Thing?
Increase Pies Supply
At the moment, not really. However, instead of opening up another physical outlet, I would like to increase the supply of my pies to other cafes and restaurants. That’s one way we can expand without actually opening another outlet.
Because there are other cafes that don’t cook food, they don’t have a proper kitchen, but they still want to have food on their menu. So they get pies or other types of foods from other places. So we can always supply our dessert or savoury pies to these places.
9. Have you always had a love for pies? Or even food.
Pies and Asian Household
To be honest, it’s not like a big passion for pies. I had it in Melbourne and I thought it was pretty interesting. Because growing up in an Asian household, I mean you don’t always eat pies. But when you do eat pies it was more like a snack, not for a meal.
Trying New Stuff
The main reason why I wanted to bring it here is because of the fact it is interesting and different. And we knew there was a market for it. Therefore it’s not out of the personal love for pies that I brought it here. So that’s an honest answer.
I like to eat, I love to eat. But my partners are bigger foodies than me. I’m more on the business side.
10. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
I would say, be more aggressive, be braver and be more aggressive.
Because when you first start there are a lot of things that you’ll not be sure of and you’ll be a bit scared to implement or execute. Because you’re not sure how is it going to be.
And then, once you start getting a good attraction and good response, then you’re going to be scared. Like “Oh no, what happens now?”, “Should I do this, should I do that?” Like what is the next step.
Things I wish I would’ve Done
But, actually, there are a lot of things I wished I would’ve done during my peak for example. When there was higher demand, I wish I would’ve expanded more, at that time. It’s a bit like a trend thing, like bubble tea currently.
Since it’s the hype now, you must open as many as possible and if the trend dies one day, so be it. Because you already gained your success. So this is just one example, there are a lot of other things that I wish I had done at that time.
11. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced with A Pie Thing?
On Duty 24/7
Every day is a learning experience for me.
Especially the first year. Because this is totally new territory for me and I had a full-time job before this. And the thing about running a business is that you have to be on it for 24 hours.
Not really physically working behind the counter 24 hours, but in the sense that you’ll always have to be the go-to person, you’ll always have to be the one that when something happens they will refer to you.
When I was working for a company I had the mind set that “Ok, I’m not going to bring my work home, I’m just going to leave it in the office.” I can work till late, but once I leave, I leave. So I had a good work-life balance in that sense.
Because I did commit fully into my job at that time, but consecutively I didn’t want to think about work when I go home. However, when I started doing A Pie Thing, I realised that it’s not possible. I was constantly thinking about the business 24/7.
It’s Like Your Baby
Even before I sleep I would be thinking about the next day, “Tomorrow what do I have to do, how do I plan to increase the sales, or how am I going to solve this problem.” every day, and every time you’ll be thinking, but you can’t help it because, at the same time, it is like your baby.
Another example is, when there is a problem, if you’re working in the company, you could always refer to your boss or the manager, but now you’re the highest, so you have got to know how to be there for the staff.
So I would say that was the challenging aspect.
12. What are the future goals for A Pie Thing?
We don’t think now is the right time to expand physically to another outlet. Either through our own estimation or gain from the demand or through market sentiment, we don’t feel like it’s the right time to open another shop right now.
Supplying Pies To All
We wanted to increase our supply of pies, so one way is through supplying to third parties, other restaurants, other cafes. And if we can break through to the hypermarkets and supermarkets, that’s another sales channel as well.
So, instead of relying on people to walk into our shop, we wish to walk out and let it reach them. So yeah, that’s the goal.
Our Pies Are Not Frozen Foods
One way to do that is through mass production, The best way of mass production in the F&B world is through the frozen food markets.
Because for frozen foods, you can produce it in large bulks and at the same time you can preserve the quality as well, and you can keep it for a much longer time. A freshly baked pie, you can store it for a maximum of 2 – 3 days.
However, there is a stigma behind frozen foods, it is unhealthy, but that is actually not entirely true. I did some research, especially in the overseas market, where the frozen food market is much more established. It’s not as unhealthy as you think it is, it is more about convenience.
Check A Pie Thing out…
A Pie Thing is coming back better than ever, and there is nothing that can stop them from accomplishing this goal!
Remember, if you love pies, or have never tried them, head down to A Pie Thing with a big appetite because you will be satisfied with their scrumptious pies.
If you loved this article, be sure to check out our other articles at Sterrific Agency!