I spend a lot of time (probably too much) searching for the best pasty recipes and latest news and views from the world of the Cornish Pasty. During my Google trawls, one name which kept popping up was that of Cornish Pasty Co.
So what is Cornish Pasty Co.? and how come I’ve never seen one of their shops in Cornwall or eaten one of their pasties?
Well, it turns out Cornish Pasty Co. isn’t exactly what you would expect. The brainchild of Cornishman Dean Thomas, the Cornish Pasty Co. has two successful restaurants not in Cornwall, or the UK, but in the US state of Arizona.
An outrageously creative and innovative menu of pasties such as Spicy Asiago Chicken, Carne Adovada as well as the classic Oggie, the diner bars and their Pace T’s (as some American’s call them) have created an enormously loyal fan base. In this exclusive interview with the Cornish Pasty Man, Dean discusses the history of his company, expansion plans, life in the US, and whether Cornish pasties can become the next McDonald’s.
Hi Dean. How did you come to move to America?
It’s kind of a long story on how I ended up in the States, I’ll keep it short. I was a commis chef at a hotel in Looe, and the owners offered me a head chef position at their hotel in Bristol. I also had a love for BMX and knew that Bristol had a good scene, so I was in!
After the head chef position, and a few other jobs I decided to stay in Bristol and open an indoor skate park with a Mexican restaurant and bar. This went well for a few years, but as I was 20 at the time and wasn’t as organised as I should have been and forgot to put some money away for a few important bills, so I decided to sell up and move to the States, where I had made friends through riding bikes. I only sold the park for enough money to have a blast for almost a year… and then I had to get back to work.
After living and working in the states for about five years I opened the Cornish Pasty Co. in Tempe, Arizona. We are coming up on being open six years, and we have a second store that is also doing very well, the yanks love em!
Have you always been a pasty fan?
Always been a huge pasty fan. Growing up in Saltash our local pasty was made by Jeff Henderson and his wife Wendy. I used to eat at least five of theirs a week, Mum would make them once a week, and my Nan would be very disappointed if we didn’t come over for pasties every Friday.
It’s always a big risk opening a restaurant, what made you think that the Cornish pasty was suited to the American market?
When it came to opening the Cornish Pasty Company Co. I basically had the back up plan of “if people don’t like pasties I’ll cook something else”. They took off better than I ever imagined.
Your pasty fillings are very creative. Do you come up with all the recipes?
90% of the recipes are my own, the creativity started with the fact that Americans demand choices, and it also made it fun for me as a chef to expand the idea of what could go inside a pasty.
Do you make your pasties larger than normal to satisfy the American appetite?
Ha ha the American appetite. I make them to my appetite, I like to eat! I think they’re a good size, they weigh about 1lb, my Nan and Mother made bigger pasties…plate hangers!
On average, how many pasties do you sell a week? And which pasty is your best seller?
Our best seller is the traditional Oggie, all the other pasties sell kinda equally, some of the most popular ones would include the Cajun, the Shepherd’s pie, and maybe the “Lovely Bit a Salmon”.
When it comes to how many pasties we sell a week I’d say probably around 3,000, but unlike a lot of cities we don’t have any passing foot traffic, we are totally a destination type place. In order to make this restaurant work, we had to make people want to come and hang out. This is how the idea of a sit down pasty restaurant/pub started.
Do you have a secret ingredient which you put into your pasties?
We don’t really have a secret recipe, we just use top quality ingredients and make sure that there’s plenty of love.
What’s your top tip for making pasties at home?
The top tip for making pasties at home is the same as my Nan’s – “make sure they stew long enough”
Do you think Americans understand the pasty story and history
A lot of Americans love to read the history page in our menu, but a lot miss that and describe pasties to their friends as gourmet “Hot Pockets”. I’m not sure if the U.K has these treats, but basically they’re the same idea as a poor quality ham and cheese pastry slice. They are mass marketed to the point you can find them in fridges at petrol stations and convenience stores throughout the country. Hot pockets make the pasty company that started out in Callington look gourmet. My friends know it winds me up and tease me every available chance, but as long as people are saying good things, I’m happy.
What is your favourite pasty filling?
My favourite is the traditional “Oggie” But if I’m feeling a little more adventurous I like the Peppered steak (Sirloin steak, sautéed portabella mushrooms, leeks, roasted courgette, and Stilton). Or the spicy “Carne Adovada” – Simmered pork in New Mexican red chili stew, Mexican rice, hatch chillies and cheddar, with a side of sour cream and salsa.
What do you serve your pasties with?
Every pasty gets a side of sauce and it’s up to you if you use it. When it comes to the traditional pasty, I’m the same as my Nan, and a believer that a pasty shouldn’t need condiments, but some of the other pasties really do benefit from the side sauces that we offer. Oh and we have a really nice beer list too.
How would you describe your average customer?
Our customers are really varied; they are also a major part of our success. We have never paid to advertise, it’s pretty much all word of mouth. We are surrounded by about 70,000 college students, so they make up about half our custom, the rest of the customers are from all types of age groups, cultures, and backgrounds. Our reviews on the website Yelp.com help a lot. The people that go to this site are generally foodie types that are into trying different types of food. At present after 300+ reviews we are their #1 restaurant in Tempe.
I use Google Alerts to monitor the latest pasty news, but it’s always clogged up with people saying good things about your restaurants. Why do you think they are so successful?
Wow that’s crazy, in Cornwall! Well we are doing something different… As anyone who has seen the movie Super Size Me will know, America has a huge following in the fast food industry. Phoenix is no exception, it’s not that we don’t have any good restaurants – we have some outstanding places to eat – but when it comes to something of quality, for under $10 you’re kinda limited for choice. The fact that most of our customers are not the type to eat fast food everyday helps for sure.
Obviously there’s the factor that we are introducing people to the delight that is the Cornish Pasty itself! If it’s done right…what’s not to like? There’s also the fact that to most people it’s something new. This always stirs up some interest … What’s a pasty? (but most pronounce it “Pace T”) Isn’t that what strippers wear on their nipples? Then come the hot pocket references.
You now have two restaurants. Can you see Cornish Pasty Co being franchised across America?
As far as expanding or franchising goes. The idea of expansion is something that I would love to do. But there are just so many things that I don’t want to lose control of. It happens too often when restaurants franchise or expand too fast. We get offers of franchising all the time but I want to get the two stores we already have shipshape before I start accepting franchise offers. Even then there will be guidelines that I don’t think most people would be into, so I guess we will see.
I am however talking seriously with a couple in California right now. It’s still early days but I’ve met with them, they’re super cool, and they want to do it my way!
Here the idea of the pasty diner is slightly alien, would you open a Cornish Pasty Co. in Cornwall?
I love the idea. But the Cornish ain’t half stubborn. Maybe one day.
With two restaurants, how often are you able to return to Cornwall? And where do you go to get your pasties?
When possible I try to come home once a year. As far as where I get my pasty fix from – the last time I was visiting all my childhood shops had disappeared.
Have you had any celebrities dine in your restaurant? If not, who would you like to cook for?
We have underground celebrities that come in such as musicians, skaters, people like that, but no one Hollywood or anything. We did cater for Kevin Costner though.
I notice that reviews of your restaurant say your fillings are wrapped in “dough”. Why not pastry?
Americans don’t eat a lot of pastry, nothing like in the U.K, so sometimes people refer our pastry to the closest thing that they are used to eating, such as pizza dough. It took a while to get the guys at the restaurant to appreciate that pastry was nothing like bread. Our pastry is rolled a little thinner and is not as greasy as some pastries can be. Not for a second am I saying that there is anything wrong with a nice thick slightly greasy pasty crust, but here I felt that it would work better if I made the pastry a little healthier. Now we are getting into the question I kinda passed up earlier…our secret is in the pastry!
In an Oscars acceptance speech style, is there anybody you would like to thank?
I would like to give a shout out to Mr John Sharman if anyone knows him? He was my lecturer at Plymouth CFE, and a big influence. And obviously thanks to my family, friends, our brilliant staff and all our loyal customers.
Thanks Dean and best of luck for the future.