FEATURE: Family's pie business is still the Top
When Bill Topping opened his butcher's shop in Scawsby in 1961, little did he know that it was the start of a multi award-winning company whose products would one day grace the deli counters at Selfridges, Harrods and upmarket grocery chain Booths.
Bill hung up his butchers apron in 1989, passing the baton on to son Roger and his wife Maggie - and it was Maggie’s talent and passion for home baking that would establish The Topping Pie Company, in Doncaster, as one of the premier pie makers in the region. Within two years, Maggie and Roger had moved to bigger premises to keep up with demand, which dictates that the company must make its pies in bulk, rather than in a humble kitchen oven. Indeed some 28,000 pies are produced every week from its headquarters at the town’s Waterside Industrial Estate.
But the key to the pies’ popularity is the company’s closely guarded recipes.
Pie maker Maggie, who is now the managing director for product development, keeps tight-lipped on how the pies are made.
“They are all secret, but I will tell you a few things that make them special: ingredients, only the best and sourced locally, a pinch of patience and a lot of practice.”
She still dons her apron and conjures up new recipes at home before handing the specifications over to a workforce of 30 people.
She added the idea is to ensure the hand-crafted pies are “as close to home made as possible” and made “under very strict rules and guidance followed to the letter.”
While Maggie remains creative in the kitchen, she also draws inspiration from master cooks from as far back as 500 years ago.
She said she found recipes which date back to Tudor times while sifting through old cook books in traditional book shops and these have inspired Toppings’ game and poultry and apricot and poultry pies.
These unusual creations, along with others such as game, cherry and walnut and duck and guineafowl with Cointreau and mandarin oranges, are held in such high regard they were sold for a number of years from the deli counter at upmarket department store Harrods in London.
Toppings also supplied two bespoke cutting pies for the Chairman’s Hamper, which contained some of the world’s finest foods and spirits handpicked by Harrods’ culinary experts. Such was the exclusivity of these hampers, just one would have set you back £5,000.
The firm also supplies a selection of quiches and dinky topped pork pies to the champagne bar and café at Selfridges in Manchester. In addition, Toppings pies can be found in Booths and Budgens supermarkets, and in a range of independent delis, farm shops, butchers and garden centres across the UK.
And while the specialist pies have attracted the attention of top level buyers, the company’s major sellers remain the more traditional pies, such as family pork pies, huntsman and Yorkshire farmers’ pies.
Maggie’s son Matthew joined the company in 2010, moving from menswear sales to the independent sector to sell pies. Now as sales and marketing director, he said the company’s broader success as a business is all down to the core values of using family recipes and local produce.
The 41-year-old, of Epworth, said the secret to their success is “my mum’s fantastic family recipes and her passion to create something very special. The company’s ethos is to only use the very best ingredients and never to cut corners. Add a mix of great staff and a lot of hard work and it’s a recipe for success.”
The popularity of their range has not been lost on pie experts either, and the company has a trophy cabinet that is groaning under the weight of more than 43 awards, including 33 three-star Gold Great Taste Awards.
Demand continues to grow and Toppings has undergone a period of expansion in recent years.
The firm has been a regular fixture in Doncaster’s market hall since the early 1970s, which has been managed by Bill’s grandson Mark for the past 20 years. In recent years, Toppings has also opened a stand in the Frenchgate Shopping Centre and at Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre in Sheffield.
There are plans to grow the company further in the coming years.
Matthew said: “We are in the process of extending the bakery and enlarging our packing room to improve efficiencies and production.
“We are also looking to export our speciality pies and quiche into Europe.”
Pies setting sail
Toppings Pie Company has even taken to the water now,supplying pies to some of the UK’s premier cruise liners.
Sales director Matthew Topping said: “Food is, of course, a crucial part of the cruise experience. Millions of people who travel on cruises every year expect memorable meals and top quality food. We’re excited to have forged a partnership with Cavendish Ships Stores Ltd to serve up our premier pies on world-leading cruise ships and secure a slice of the high-end cruise market.
Cliff Gregory, sales and marketing manager for Cavendish, said: “We source distinct, quality products and are delighted to include Yorkshire firm Toppings in our portfolio.”