Former builder Dean Haworth was passionate about travel, adored Thai food and fell head over heels in love with a young lady called Rebecca. ‘I met Becky in Thailand in 1998,’ he recalls. ‘First I fell in love with the cuisine, then I fell in love with Becky.’
Friends in Thailand showed them how to cook authentic dishes. ‘Two years ago we shared a Massaman Curry with friends over here and we all thought this hearty stew would make a great pie filling,’ he adds. ‘The building trade was in recession so I was working away a lot. Then the children came along and I wanted to be at home with the family. Becky and I discussed the pie idea and said “We can do it!”’ The Real Thai Pie Company was born.
Dean’s parents, Ann and Keith, have been bakers in Darwen for over 30 years and his dad was instrumental in helping Dean perfect the family’s secret pastry recipe and getting the Thai pies just right. ‘I got more and more under my dad’s feet until he kicked me out of the shop!’ Becky, a social worker, jokes: ‘His dad did help us a lot, but I think they may have killed each other if they’d been together much longer.’
The couple have Archie, 4, who ‘frequently comes home from grandma’s full of cake’ and the delightful Mali, 2, who was playing happily in a basket on the floor. ‘The week before I had her I was on Dean’s shoulders, helping put up a gazebo, trying to reach beyond my bump, then we were at a market the next Sunday and I was having strong pre-labour contractions. Mali was born on the Thursday!’
Much of their early business was from food fairs and markets and the children were always part of the team. ‘Often all people could see of her was the top of her head, peeping out of my fleece, like at Southport Food Festival,’ says Becky. ‘The children tag along with us – Archie loved sleeping in a gazebo at one event.’
Success came quickly, with a range of pies including vegetarian and vegan recipes as well as the Green Thai Vegetable Pie and the Devil Pie, identified by the pastry decoration. The paste for this chicken, potato and onion pie is bursting with a secret blend of chilli and other spices.
The pies from their Darwen unit were becoming increasingly popular at bigger venues, with the help of both sets of parents. They also started to appear at corporate events.
Dinah Makani, of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, says: ‘Dean provides the most delicious and fun fusion food around. We’ve used him two years in a row now for an event and will no doubt continue to do so – the pies are always piping hot and taste of Thailand.’
The pies made their first appearance at a wedding recently. The pastry lids were personalised so they ditched the usual elephants and devil pastry motifs, and replaced them with the couple’s initials plus a heart. Becky was thrilled with the feedback from the happy couple. Production has already diversified into the Thai ‘Cutie’ Pie, a miniature version for buffets.
The pies are already gaining industry accolades and featured in the House of Commons in the final of a national competition. In the epicurean equivalent of The Booker Prize, they picked up a Gold Star at The Great Taste Awards.
‘People don’t believe every pie is hand-blocked and lidded,’ says Dean. ‘We are proud of our pies and do our best to source ingredients from local suppliers.’
Fortunately the pies freeze well, so that’s their main method of distribution. ‘We never anticipated how hard the work would be as our pies gained popularity,’ says Dean. ‘So much so that I’m known as The Thai-Pie Man!’