Maketu Pies back and busy with new jobs, initiatives and flavours

After appearing to be down for the count, iconic Bay of Plenty brand Maketu Pies is off the canvas and making a comeback.

Eighteen months after the business was placed in receivership, its new owners are hiring more fulltime staff, exploring new initiatives, new pie flavours and the production facility is “busier than ever”.

A long-time employee, who only wanted to be named as Krishla, has spent her entire working life at the shop on Little Waihi Rd in Maketū.

Maketu Pies is her first and only job since she left school at 18.

“I’ve pretty much done every job in the factory.”

But in September 2019 she feared she would lose her livelihood when the company she had dedicated her working life to went into receivership due to its “critical financial position”.

“I was shocked and sad at the same time,” she said. “It’s the only place I’ve ever known.”

Previously owned by husband and wife Grant and Karen Wilson, Maketu Pies had been operating for nearly 40 years as the seaside town’s largest year-round employer.

The business employed about 40 staff, mostly locals.

“During the receivership, it was a bit hard not knowing whether we would still have a job and maybe having to think of going somewhere else for a job,” Krishla said.

Thomas Rodewald and Kenneth Brown were appointed as joint receivers and managers of RG and KM Wilson Limited – trading as Maketu Pies – on September 27.

According to the first receivers’ report, the company owed more than $2 million to the Bank of New Zealand and other creditors.

But in October 2019 Te Arawa Management Ltd (TAML), the commercial subsidiary of Te Arawa Lakes Trust, became the new owners.

The trust was one of more than 30 buyers interested in the pie business after the company was offered for sale as a going concern. Te Arawa took over on November 11.

Krishla had since been promoted to factory manager and is Te Arawa’s first management team member.

“I didn’t think I would ever be out in that position,” she said.

“I’m liking the challenge … We’re getting a lot busier, more so now than what we have been in the last year.”

Meanwhile, Lynne Pryor had been in the business for three months after being appointed Maketu Pies’ new general manager.

“I feel like part of the furniture already,” she joked.

Pryor was living in Auckland and planned to return home to Matatā – a half-hour drive from Maketū – when she spotted the advertisement at Maketu Pies.

“I thought: ‘Wow that’s a bit of me’ … I’ve always worked in food production, it’s just what I do and I love it. Three weeks later I think, I was here.”

When Maketu Pies went into receivership Pryor said they quickly realised it was a brand New Zealand loved too.

“It’s such a strong brand. When I told people where I was going to work I didn’t have to explain.”

Pryor said since Te Arawa Management bought the business it had hired about a dozen more people, mostly from Maketū along with one from Rotorua.

“Our staff numbers are up,” she said. “New staff have been hired and more people are working full-time.”

The business had also introduced new initiatives including offering apprenticeships and ongoing training for its staff.

That included helping staff get their forklift licences and driver’s licences, as well as food safety training, she said.

“It keeps people in the same job if they feel appreciated and know money is being put back into the people that work here.

“We’re actually putting the Maketū back in Maketu Pies.”

Pryor said the business had a “real success story” after entering new management just three months before the country went into Covid-19 lockdown.

“I think we all forget how extraordinary it was. There certainly was nothing normal about last year.”

The reason a lot of iwi businesses were successful was that they were clear about their “why”, she said.

“Our why is to have a thriving business here in Maketū that can support our local Maketū whānau.

“There’s a huge level of pride in the pies that go out. It’s their mana.”

TAML commercial manager Cassandra Crowley said the plan was to launch new products at the Foodstuffs Expo 2021 this week.

“The team have been getting ready to go and will be launching a new-flavour pie at the expo – and some new-flavour sausage rolls.

“There’s some cool stuff coming.”

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