By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Since opening in 2007, Kiwi Kuisine’s savory meat pies and strategic business model have continued to grow.
The business is the brainchild of resident Bert “Ram” Todd. With his hulking build and thick New Zealand accent, Todd’s professional rugby past comes as no surprise. Unforeseen, however, is his true passion for cooking.
“I’m not the rugby guy anymore. I’m the pie guy,” Todd said.
Todd recently retired from 47 years of either playing or coaching rugby. He played professionally for Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand and Harlequins and London Irish in England before his rugby career took him to the United States around 1990.
It wasn’t long after coming to the U.S. that Todd began to miss traditional New Zealand cuisine.
“Hot dogs and hamburgers is your American food,” Todd said. “In New Zealand, it’s meat pie. And when you’re growing up playing rugby, you have meat pies. It’s your go-to meal after work, after the pub, after training. I mean you don’t need an excuse to eat a meat pie. That was our go-to thing.”
Without a place to buy a traditional New Zealand meat pie, Todd began to make his own. He started small, cooking for his rugby roommates and picking up some smaller catering gigs. When he began to get more attention, Todd decided to pursue a brick-and-mortar bakery.
“It was certainly fledgling in the beginning,” Shannon McGahey, Todd’s wife, said. “I can remember back to when he broke my stovetop cooking a big pot of gravy. So it all started in our kitchen and that was my final straw to kick him out of the house.”
Todd opened Kiwi Kuisine at 4550 Eisenhower Ave. in 2007. Over the years it’s also become a staple at six area markets, including the Old Town and West End farmers’ markets in Alexandria.
(Foodie: Sparkling wines make every day special)
As the business grew, McGahey got involved with its operations, especially the farmers’ markets booths. Both of Todd and McGahey’s children, who go to T.C. Williams High School, also help out with the business.
“[Our children have] been working at the farmers market since they were 11, 12, 13 years old,” McGahey said. “It’s been a family affair, and it’s been nice to be able to bring them in on it as well. They ask questions and we’re not parents that walk out the door at 8 a.m. and come back at 6 p.m., and they have no idea what we do. They know what we do and they jump in and help.”
Over the past few years, McGahey began to introduce an array of sweet pies to Kiwi’s offerings. About a year ago, the couple opened Kiwi Pie Shop, a carryout sweet and savory pie store, adjacent to Kiwi Kuisine.
“We had people that would make an inquiry, especially at times when they would hear the name Kiwi Pies or Kiwi Kuisine, they would say, ‘You put kiwi fruit in pie?’ And we’d say, ‘No, no, we’re a meat pie company,’” McGahey said. “But everybody loves a pie, whether it’s a sweet pie or a savory pie …. so we just started with some seasonal pies and then we just started getting creative. He’s the savory guy and I like my sweet pies so it gave me a chance to kind of tinker with flavor and variety.”
Before Kiwi Pie Shop, Kiwi Kuisine’s Eisenhower Avenue location was strictly a bakery and distribution center. In addition to the farmers’ markets, Todd distributes his pies to various coffee shops, breweries and grocery stores, primarily Whole Foods Market.
The Whole Foods partnership has expanded over Kiwi Kuisine’s 12 years in business. It’s also helped refine Todd’s recipes.
“When Whole Foods approached me, they said, ‘Can you make something that’s good for you and delicious? And I says, ‘I can make delicious, I don’t know about good for you.’ And they helped me think outside the box,” Todd said.
Todd uses all-natural ingredients in his pies. From the pastry crust to the meats and cheeses, all ingredients are free from artificial flavors and preservatives, trans fats, antibiotics and steroids, according to Todd.
“Pies are typically 1,000 calories, just a little one, but my pies are 500 calories,” Todd said. “You can eat that every day and not feel bad. That’s what I want. I want people eating my product every day and feeling good about it. You just can’t have more than one. That’s the hard part.”
Todd said he wanted to appeal to Americans’ desire for fast food, so Kiwi Kuisine’s meat pies come in microwave and oven-safe bags and are stored in the freezer. To heat them, a person simply has to move the bagged pie from the freezer to the microwave and heat it up for four minutes.
Top sellers of Kiwi’s savory pies are steak and cheese, roast lamb, chicken curry and spicy veggie, Todd said. The top-seller of the sweet pies is key lime, which is made with an Anzac Biscuit crust, one of the most popular cookies in New Zealand and Australia.
Todd and McGahey constantly introduce new flavors to the menu, always testing them first with their neighbors in Old Town.
“We have some awesome neighbors that love to be our guinea pigs, and we’ll just start bringing them to the neighborhood gatherings that are usually once a week,” McGahey said. “We look for honest feedback, and the nice thing about it is when you’re getting feedback from different people, … you get a variety of opinions and taste buds that play into the making of a pie.”
While the operation started small, Todd now makes 10,000 pies a week and distributes to Whole Foods stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. He said he hopes to expand to all Whole Foods in the United States in the next decade. He’s also looking into partnering with other business owners to open more Kiwi Pie Shop locations.
For more information about Kiwi pies and where to find them, visit www.kiwikuisine.com.
(Small Business Spotlight: Smallcakes cupcake shop opens in Del Ray)