It is an end of an era for Maketu Pies' owners Grant and Karen Wilson. Their business of 36 years has now been sold and a new owner has been announced. Reporter Zoe Hunter visits the small town on the Bay of Plenty coast to hear what the locals think about the company's new owners Te Arawa Management Ltd - and to taste test the iconic pie.
Selling the iconic Bay business Maketu Pies to a local iwi trust is "probably the best outcome you could have got", says a former employee.
Te Arawa Management Ltd (TAML), the commercial subsidiary of Te Arawa Lakes Trust, bought Maketu Pies after the business went into receivership last month.
Former employee Ronnie Tapsell-Walters said the outcome meant the company on Little Waihi Rd would stay in local hands.
"I think it turned out the best it could ... It is probably the best outcome you could have got," she said.
"I just hope the ones who have bought it still continue to uphold the community values in there."
But Tapsell-Walters, 38, said she felt for owners Grant and Karen Wilson who have now sold their business after 36 years.
"I feel for them but at the same time, I feel relieved for them. They can relax and retire and still look down the hill and their pie shop is still here."
Maketu Pies, which employs about 40 mostly-local staff, went into receivership in September due to its "critical financial position".
Its new owners, Te Arawa Management Ltd, was one of more than 30 interested buyers when Maketu Pies was offered for sale on a going concern basis earlier this month.
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Tapsell-Walters said most locals were relieved a new local buyer had been announced but many felt there was no recognition for the Wilsons who had dedicated 36 years to the community.
A community celebration was being planned for the pair before the new owners take over on November 11.
Owner Grant Wilson spoke for the first time about the sale this week, saying he was happy the new owners would continue to employ locals but he would miss his team.
TAML commercial manager Cassandra Crowley said the new owners would continue the brand name.
"The brand is here to stay," she said.
Tapsell-Walters worked at Maketu Pies for 13 years and said the business employed a lot of the people who lived there.
That included her sister, brother-in-law, daughter, son-in-law, and a few first cousins.
"I would say probably about 25 out of their 50 [staff] is related to me," she said with a laugh.
Tapsell-Walters got the job working in the oven room after her two sisters needed her help late one night when most of the staff were either at a tangi or off sick.
"They came and picked me up in the night, it might have been 10pm, and they said they needed help. I went and helped for one night and I ended up there for 13 years."
She stayed for more than a decade because of the friendships she made.
"And I was good at it," she joked.
"But the people there are awesome. A lot of people don't leave that place because of the people. Most of them stay because they have good teammates. You're like one big family in there."
Tapsell-Walters counted the pies she would cook like clockwork.
A total of 288 pies would go into a single oven on 12 trays of 24 pies - or 576 in a double oven. Tapsell-Walters said she would cook that 30 times over.
"So you are pumping out anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 pies a day. That is probably an average.
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"But the best memories would be when the old nannies used to be in there and everything was hand made," she said.
"Seriously, it was the elder people who used to make the most beautiful pies ... Everybody wants the old recipes back."
Another employee, who was known as Aunty Carol, remembered having to attend to each individual pie before they left the pie shop.
Aunty Carol said she had made lasting friendships after working there for many years and agreed the Wilsons deserved recognition for their dedication to the community.
"It was like a family in there," she said. "Karen and Grant were good bosses."
Taste testing the Maketu Pie
When in Rome, have a Maketu Pie.
Well, I wasn't in Rome. I was in Maketū.
But it felt right to sink my teeth into one of the iconic Maketu Pies while visiting the very town where they are made.
My choice? A steak and mushroom pie. There was no reasoning behind why I chose that particular flavour, I just went with it.
My photographer, however, went for a more gourmet option - a bacon, egg and pesto Sunday Best Maketu Pie.
It was just before 11am, almost lunchtime.
The pie warmer at the Maketu Landing dairy next door to where the pies are made on Little Waihi Rd was almost empty.
Dairy manager Angrez Singh said sales had increased since it was announced Maketu Pies was in receivership. He usually sells about 100 pies a day and 200 in the summer.
So the photographer and I were glad we had one in our hot little hands.
I took my first bite and the photographer had already eaten his. "It's a good pie," he said between mouthfuls.
I took my time. I peeled back the red and white packaging and sunk my teeth in. The smooth, buttery pastry melted in my mouth.
Then I tasted the steak. It was juicy and delicious. Not chewy, but easy to eat. The steak was flavoursome and the mushroom was earthy and tasteful.
As I ate, some of the locals passed me on the street. "How's the pie?" they asked. "Brilliant" I replied.
They smiled and somehow I felt like I had just been accepted into the family.