Americans puzzled then wowed by Kiwi meat pies

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

The Kiwi meat pie is exotic in parts of the United States.

It's OK to put ketchup on your pie, Kiwi Matthew Campbell tells his American customers.

They look shocked. It's disrespectful.

No, no, he says. A Kiwi meat pie and tomato sauce go together. It's OK.

One of the fun things about setting up a Kiwi meat pie business in Colorado (Mountain Pie CO) has been the glimpse it gives into cultural differences around pies between Kiwis and Americans.

It's a happy ending - Americans love the pies once they taste them and after five years business is booming for Matthew and Tara, his American wife and business partner.

But winning over the Americans has been a mix of education and taste testing.

To most Americans, a pie is nine inches across, sits in a pie plate and is sweet. Think pecan pie or pumpkin pie.

Once they get past the idea of meat in a pie, there's the problem of how to eat one of the odd little things.

The Campbells give them a hint with the word "handheld" in their product descriptions.

"A lot of Americans' reaction to our pies is to say how 'cute' they are," Tara says.

"Most of them are a little confused when we tell them the correct way to eat a meat pie is to keep it in the bag and eat it like a sandwich."

Americans are also told to blow on the pie often because the gravy filling will be hot. Then there's the urging to try with tomato sauce.

Such a lot of new things to learn.

The classic Steak and Cheese pie is probably closest to Matthew's heart and his New Zealand heritage, but wasn't selling so well until he renamed it The New Zealander. 

"Now they are really moving," he says.

Another surprise was his Bacon Mac & Cheese Pie.

"I initially thought it was a carb bomb and no-one would buy it. Boy was I wrong. It's now a very popular pie."

The Steak and Ale pie is the biggest seller because of the region's love of craft beer breweries. 

But he's also been flexible and keen to include local influences. A good example is using green chilli, which is very popular in Colorado and New Mexico.

"It works so well in a pie, so we have our Pork and Pueblo Green Chile Pie which is juicy pulled pork slowly braised in a sauce using a fire-roasted mix of green chillis from a three-generation farm in Pueblo."

And that might why the Campbells are succeeding where many Kiwis have tried and failed to make meat pies big in America.

They are flexible. The let the Kiwi pie model evolve a little.

Matthew grew up in The Bay of Islands, Kaikohe and Whangarei and worked as a chef at Baywatch in The Bay of Plenty and On The Beach in Sumner, Christchurch, before going to the United States in 2003.

These are his growing-up Kiwi pie love affair memories, a roll call of pie honour:

"Any tuck shop pie I ever had. Georgie Pie Mince 'n Cheese, Regency Pies in Whangarei, Ponsonby Pies from petrol stations."

Tara and Matthew met in a little hippie/tourist town called Manitou at Colorado Springs in 2005, launched Mountain Pie CO in 2013, and married in 2014.

Tara says Matt had wanted to open a Kiwi pie business for years. 

"He truly missed meat pies, which is really where the inspiration for the business came from."

Matt says the authentic Kiwi meat pie has a buttery tender base, generous meaty filling, rich gravy and a flaky pastry top.

"If you didn't grow up eating Kiwi meat pies, you are not going to make them right," he says.

One challenge among many was mastering making pastry successfully at Colorado's high altitude.

There was a hiccup when they discovered it was illegal in the United States to wholesale any product containing meat without a grant of inspection by the Department of Agriculture.

They got around this with help from the rancher who supplied their "humanely raised, antibiotic-free beef and pork". He let them put an industrial kitchen in his new meat-processing facility and it got the vital USDA bureaucratic tick.

Now the Campbells have an Aussie-made pie making machine which can turn out 1500 pies an hour. They sell in local stores, wholesale pies to breweries, cafes, hospitals, while still doing events, catering and farmers markets.

A final question: Does Matt ever miss the good old $1 mince pie from the service station pie warmer?

"Yes absolutely, and I'd eat them again in a heartbeat. Just give me plenty of sauce."

Source: Ewan Sargent .

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