Business profile... Martin Dewey, Square Pie

25/11/2015 - 14:49
Self-confessed ideas man Martin Dewey launched Square Pie on a market stall in London back in 2001. Fast forward to 2015 and the company has six sites, a turnover of £2.6m and plans for an ambitious expansion. Nathan Pearce visited the concept.

Dewey graduated from Bristol University with an economics and politics degree and tried his hand at all manner of jobs, including managing a reggae band and launching an internet start-up. “I suppose I’ve always been an ideas man more than a nuts and bolts operator, although I’ve certainly done my time doing the hard graft in restaurants too,” Dewey says.

“I’m someone who’s managed to successfully avoid a clear career path for a long time. My passions in life are food and music, but I consider myself more a food man than a music man.”

After finding himself increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t find a decent pie, he took it upon himself to fill the void and create Square Pie. “We were the first gourmet pie business in the country and I’d had enough of working with other people, so I got myself a credit card, remortgaged my flat and set about learning how to make pies.”

The concept began as a market stall on Spitalfield’s Market in East London and at close of play on the first day of business a grand total of seven pies had been sold. Fast-forward 15 years and the record number of pies sold in a day has hit 992.

“I’d do it all completely differently now,” Dewey admits. “In fact, the only two things that have remained the same since we started are that we have never and will never compromise on our food and that we’ll always look after the brand and keep developing what we do.”

Square Pie now has six sites across London, including a permanent site within the Spitalfield’s Market complex. Other sites across London include the O2 Arena, Westfield shopping centres and Excel Exhibition Centre, as well as serving pies in pubs and the foodservice market.

However, Dewey’s sights for Square Pie are significantly higher, with plans to reach 40 sites across the UK within the next five years. “We’ve got a two-fold business strategy, to grow our restaurant business across the country, starting with our opening in Birmingham Grand Central this September, followed by more openings planned for the next year, and also to grow our branded Square Pies in the retail and foodservice sectors.

“We’d like to get to 40 restaurants within the next five years. I think it’ll be a stretch but it’s doable and we’re aiming for a UK wide expansion. We’re mainly in shopping centres at the minute but we won’t be sticking exclusively to them. Ultimately, we want to be where it’s busy.”

The business has recently launched a pitch on crowdfunding website, CrowdCube to help finance Square Pie’s ambitious plans. Square Pie is attempting to raise £750,000 for an 8% interest rate and they’re already over half way to achieving it.

“We’re all really happy with how things are going with the Bond and certainly on track to hit our target by the completion day,” Dewey explains. “There were various options in the business to fund growth and crowdfunding is a really interesting way. It has its pros and cons but I liked that it was a way of involving our customers and those who enjoy our pies.”

The business turned over £2.6 million in the 2014 financial year and sales have been up 34% in the first six months of 2015 on the same period in 2014. Dewey expects to achieve a turnover in excess of £5 million by the year-end and £22.6m by 2019.

In terms of Square Pie’s competition, he doesn’t immediately list those that offer pies on their menus, instead he namechecks Leon, Tortilla and itsu. “We are British fast casual, so even though our products are completely different, they’re who I think of as our competition. In the pie world, Pieminister I suppose are our main competitor, but we also fill the retail and foodservice markets. It’s a small industry, so we’re all aware of what everyone else is getting up to, but our focus is on what we’re doing really.”

Pies have always and will always be at the heart of the Square Pie brand, but that hasn’t stopped the team from developing and widening their offer. Square Pie restaurants now also sell sausage and mash, macaroni cheese, salads and rotisserie chicken has also been added to the menu at two sites.

“For some businesses in the industry it works to have that singular focus, but for what we do I think our focus needs to be a little wider,” Dewey admits. “Pies are predominantly our biggest seller and the classics (steak and ale, chicken and mushroom) always sell well, but we’ve found that our other products are increasingly popular too.

“I think our customers welcome the bigger range that we’re offering now. They don’t want just one product anymore.”

The menu is in fact constantly developing, with a new range of branded ‘Canapies’ available across the business, derived from Australian ‘Party Pies’. They’ve been introduced across the brand’s restaurants and launched at Twickenham to coincide with the Rugby World Cup.

Also coinciding with the tournament is Square Pie’s very own ‘Pie World Cup’. 20 special pies have been created to mark each team playing in this year’s competition.

Pie fans can enjoy pies filled with kangaroo for Australia, moose for Canada and pulled pork for the USA. The pies appear on the same day that the teams are playing in the Rugby World Cup and each sale counts as a point and whichever team sits atop of the leaderboard on October 31st, the date of the Rugby World Cup final will be crowned ‘Pie World Cup’ champion.

The competition is a partnership with the Lawrence Dallaglio Foundation and 10p from each sale will go towards the charity. “It’s been a lot of fun working out 20 new pie flavours but it’s what we do, we want to keep things interesting and we’re hoping to raise a lot of money for a really great charity,” Dewey says.

Square Pie also recently launched a delivery service, largely focused on the office workers market, as well as delivering to large get-togethers and celebrations. In addition, plans are in place to launch a digital loyalty card in the near future and the business has teamed up with Lavazza to provide customers with a coffee offer.

In terms of the variety that the food-to-go market in London has to offer, Dewey says “London has got so many new concepts, offering a huge variety of food. The main players in the industry are growing quicker than anybody else so perhaps there needs to be a few more stepping up to that, but there’s a huge amount of choice out there.”

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