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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Notts-based Vork Pie Have Scooped Up Awards for Their Vegan Pub Snacks

21 May 21 interview: Emily Thursfield

They say the best ideas come after a couple of pints with your mates. And this is certainly true for Sophie Neill of Vork Pie, a Stanton by Dale-based handmade vegan pie outlet. Established in 2014, Sophie has spent the best part of a decade perfecting the plant-based alternative to Britain’s best loved pub snack, which is now stocked in outlets up and down the country… 

Tell us how Vork Pie came to be…
My friends and I were on a crazy bus holiday chatting about the usual things, like wanting to get out of the nine-to-five life, and came up with the idea of running a pie and mash shop… and it all sort of snowballed from there! I got sick of going out for a couple of beers and having to have peanuts and crisps while everyone else was tucking into pork pies. I took a pastry-making course at the School of Artisan Food to learn all about pastry and spent loads of time developing a vegan version, and then began to sell them at a pub run by some friends. 

I can imagine it was stressful starting things off in your own kitchen... unless it's quite big? 
Oh no, it's tiny. I live in a little, two-bed mid-terrace house, so it didn't take too long for me to realise that it wasn't going to be sustainable. Plus, trying to get people to help you out is not ideal when you’re in your own house either. I used to joke that it was a bit like Del Boy’s flat when the flour arrived – there would be 25kg bags of it that I would try to hide around the house, under coffee tables and what have you. 

Do you have a background in food? 
I actually have a degree in furniture design – completely different, but still creative. I’ve been a veggie since I was sixteen and there weren't many options for veggie food even then. Creating Vork Pie came out of necessity – I like nice food, so I just thought I should make it. 

What is the perfect pie side? 
The original is meant to be a vegan take on a pork pie, so that one is good cold with different chutneys. I actually teamed up with Newark-based ChilliBobs to create chutneys to go with each of my pies, as I wanted to showcase what you can do with a cold pie, as a lot of people don’t understand the point of them. Teaming up with another local business and being able to support each other has been really nice. With the other pies, such as the The Stoutly or Smoked Beetroot, if you warm them up they’re great for a roast dinner – team it with a few vegan Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. 

How has the pandemic affected your business? 
A lot of my income came from the big indoor vegan events, so things were a bit stressful to start with as we didn’t know where the money was going to come from. But I soon realised that we had the website, we had all logistics in place with the courier to post out to people, and then I began to do local deliveries as well. 

It’s also given me the time to take stock of where we wanted to take the business. I started doing little hampers with the pies, chutneys and vegan scotch eggs that I make, which have been doing well with people sending them as gifts. It also gave me the time to be a bit more creative with flavours – we obviously saw a big boom of people baking and treating themselves to sweet things, which is why the Apple and Special Cranberries pie was born. I was panicking when there was a shortage of flour, though. Luckily I don’t need toilet rolls to make pies!

You are palm oil free and use compostable packaging. How did sustainability become such a selling point of your business? 
It's what I care about as a person, so I want to be as environmentally-friendly as I can as a business too. I was a member of Greenpeace when I was younger and used to go on marches, so I know what we do has a huge impact on the planet. Being palm oil free took a while, as the vegan spread margarine I was using suddenly changed their recipe to include it again. Being a vegan, you send yourself crazy looking at ingredients on everything you buy, and palm oil is in all sorts. In the end I teamed up with The University of Nottingham to develop a pastry recipe using coconut oil. A big part of being vegan is about caring for animals, people and the planet, not destroying rainforests just so somebody can eat a pie. That just makes no sense, does it? 

Your Tamarind Sweet Potato pie has won multiple accolades at the British Pie Awards. Would you say this is your greatest achievement?
I'm just proud of where I've come and how I've grown from one flavour of pie to all this. The Pie Awards is a nice achievement to have, because then it's someone else who thinks they're worthy of an award, so yeah it's a seal of approval which is always nice isn't it. But the seal of approval is also when you get customers coming back time and time again buying your pies.

Any other future plans? 
We’ve got another sweet pie in the pipeline, which is a Belgian Waffle Apple Pie, and a few ideas for some savoury ones which I’m keeping under wraps for now. A lot of people seem to like the faux-meat side of things, so I'm going to try that out too. I’m just going to have a play about!

vorkpie.co.uk

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