Making dough in tough times
Tim and Mia Tracey know a thing or two about raising sandwich and bakery businesses through the toughest of times. Their story is not just one of survival, but of thriving against the odds. When Covid’s lockdowns gripped the nation in early 2020, as was the case for most businesses the outlook became suddenly very […]
Tim and Mia Tracey know a thing or two about raising sandwich and bakery businesses through the toughest of times. Their story is not just one of survival, but of thriving against the odds.
When Covid’s lockdowns gripped the nation in early 2020, as was the case for most businesses the outlook became suddenly very uncertain for Tim and Mia Tracey.
Pickle & Pie, their Wellington-based NYC-deli style business with its unique Rueben-style sandwiches, meat pies and delicious pickles, had become a firm favourite with Wellingtonians since opening its doors in 2018.
During lockdown chef Tim found himself at home making bread from scratch, perfecting his Carraway-seed rye loaf in preparation for producing their own bread once the lockdown ended.
They were unpredictable times for New Zealand’s business owners, but Tim and Mia had no thoughts of slowing down or reining things in.
“Lockdown was a struggle for us, as it was for the entire hospitality industry,” recalls Mia. “We gave our team some educational and inspirational tasks that they could do at home and when we moved to Level 3, we offered ‘click & collect’ takeaways from our windows.”
The couple also borrowed and refurbished a small truck from Mia’s mum, who runs a florist business, and created a makeshift food truck for pie and scone sales in local neighbourhood Silverstream.
Looking back, Tim and Mia believe their business was “very lucky” to have survived the pandemic. “The initial lockdown was bearable, but the waves that followed after – Omicron especially, where the customers were panicked and the rules meant that we were allowed to open but have even less seating – really, really hurt our business,” says Mia.
Dough Bakery was born out of the Covid lockdowns. When they were stuck at home, Tim’s decision to craft that perfect rye loaf meant that they no longer needed to purchase bread from other suppliers.
“But we quickly ran out of fridge and oven space and couldn’t keep up with ourselves,” Mia remembers.
That’s when the Upper Hutt City Council came to the rescue by offering the couple the lease on the commercial kitchen at the Council-run building at Whirinaki.
“When we were offered the lease, we decided that would be the perfect place to start Dough Bakery,” says Mia. “We could then produce our bread at Dough Bakery and sell to Pickle & Pie.”
Tim and Mia are doubly grateful to the Council, as they also applied for, and were granted, the money from its economic development stimulus fund.
“We needed to help cover the relocation costs associated with getting from our smaller kitchen to the bigger kitchen at Dough HQ,” says Mia. “The grant was so helpful. The challenges we’ve had getting into our kitchen were all around costs, timeline of building supplies and equipment.
“It’s nothing that we haven’t managed to overcome though!”
Growth without the wobbles
When Pickle & Pie was launched five years ago the business had eight employees. Today across five Dough locations and Pickle & Pie there’s a total of 54 staff.
Tim and Mia are also pleased to have relocated six employees to Upper Hutt to work at the main kitchen.
Fast growth does come with its challenges though, especially when your team is working a variety of hours across the business and nobody is ever in the same place at the same times.
“At the moment we’re focusing a lot on implementing more rigorous processes, systems and management,” says Mia. “And now that we have solid foundations in place, we’re in a really good position for growing our customer base and that’s very exciting.”
Lessons and advice
The past five years have thrown a lot at Tim and Mia, and the teachings have come hard and fast. If you’re in business you must be flexible and you’ve got to have savings in the bank, says Mia.
“In hospitality especially, two bad weeks in a row can be crippling. During Covid we had to turn our business into an online ordering/doorstep delivery business virtually overnight. While the execution wasn’t perfect initially, we got there and it was pivotal to our survival.”
Their advice for other start-ups that are looking to grow fast is to establish a strong brand and get your systems and processes in place first.
“And, of course, hire talent. We’re so grateful for our talented team at Dough.”
More growth to come
Despite the hurdles, Tim and Mia have come a long way with their business. But they’re not done yet. They’re planning to grow their farm in Otaki which supplies the cucumbers for the pickles at Pickle & Pie.
They’re also continuing with their new product development plans at Dough and have ambitions to grow their market share further.
“Our team are a huge part of our business, and we’re passionate about focusing on their professional development,” explains Mia. “It’s something that we think is lacking in the hospitality industry and that’s a change that we want to make.
“We want to see school leavers flocking to hospitality as a valid career path and this requires a massive shift from the industry.
“We’re determined to help. So, there’s a bit to do!”
By Editor Glenn Baker