Inspiring Alumni: Zeke Mandel, "The Savory Pie Guy"
Trading in Wall Street for the Business of Food
Prior to attending ICE, Zeke worked for 8 years on Wall St as a programmer and CTO. Soon after earning an MBA in Finance & Entrepreneurship, he left his job to pursue a career in a food. Working as a consultant, Zeke supported several food-related businesses, but kept hitting a wall with investors because he lacked any official training in the industry. So Zeke enrolled at ICE, where he got to know Chefs Kathryn and Jeff, instructors in the Pastry & Baking Arts program.
Zeke: “I thought I had identified a niche market with some [production] barriers to entry that wouldn’t make it easy for competitors to follow my lead. I would bring in samples of Aussie-New Zealand style meat pies with an American twist for my chefs to taste, and give feedback. Chefs Jeff and Kathryn guided me through my product conception while I was at ICE.”
A Formula for Flaky Dough
While finalizing his business model, Zeke started working with soccer bars in his area to market a variety of meat pies. He wanted to sell an all-natural product that would appeal to the American market, with a dough that was “less doughy,” easy to eat, flaky and good tasting. He located a USDA-approved production facility and began small scale production for his original customer base. (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversight is required for any animal-based wholesale product, and requires extensive preparedness, sanitation standards, HACCP plans and daily USDA inspector oversight.)
Zeke: “I worked with Chef Jeff to formulate the dough. I needed a product that differentiated me from the competition, and Chef Jeff helped create a formula that could freeze, bake, be refrozen (if necessary), and maintain good flavor and flakiness, while holding traditional (wet) meat fillings and allow the product to be eaten from the hand.”
The Obstacles of Outsourcing
Zeke needed to reduce the cost of producing his dough to achieve certain profit guidelines, and to establish the ability to increase his supply. That meant finding a co-packer to produce the doughs off-site, freeze and ship them to his meat pie assembly/baking facility.
Zeke: “Chef Jeff and I worked together to taste and evaluate the quality of the dough after a few co-packers had created the pie bottoms, and tops. Each flavored dough has to meet certain features for my product to work correctly and achieve customer demands. Chef Jeff tweaked the formula to get it to work for large volume settings. It wasn’t an easy process—I needed a dough that contained only natural ingredients (on the Whole Foods accepted ingredient list) that would be able to be produced and distributed frozen, and reheated successfully by consumers who ultimately want a flaky, tasty meat pie.”
Increased Production / Troubleshooting
Zeke is now marketing his pies at D’Agostino and Whole Foods in NYC as well as various bars, pubs and cafes around the city. He also is working with Fresh Direct to develop an exclusive specialty line to be distributed through the online grocery service. Chefs Kathryn and Jeff recently toured his production facility in Mount Vernon, New Jersey.
Zeke: Just having access to ICE chefs for periodic brainstorming is great. Two different clients wanted to know if we could produce my meat pie fillings in a formats that would be “user friendly” and easy for kids to warm up. We think so and are planning to work together on the “after school market” shortly. Read more about Zeke’s story and where to find your own The Savory Pie Guy’s products here.
To learn more about Food Start Up Help, a consulting group that assists entrepreneurs in starting or expanding a bakery-related business, visit www.foodstartuphelp.com.