By April, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels will have a cafe in China. For owner Michael Hannah, it’s the fitting next step for one of Australia’s most persevering businesses.
“As a kid, I started working in the brickyards in St Peters. When you asked people what they wanted for smoko, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not you wanted a pie; it was a question of how many you wanted,” says Hannah.
“Around then, there were plenty of great pies around – Sargeants, Scotts, Big Ben and Irelands – but they were so popular in the ‘60s that they started listing the pie companies on the share markets. And it ruined the pie business. It was a long time before the pie business recovered.”
Now it’s back in full swing. While the first cafe location is yet to be confirmed, “the little pie shop that could” will begin production at its Shenzhen bakery in a few months.
“Some people who went to school here, who were Chinese and moved back to China, came back to Australia and approached me and said that Harry’s would work in China,” Hannah says. “They loved the pies, they loved the hotdogs and they loved the concept of Harry’s.”
Harry’s pies, from the Tiger to the curry-chicken pie, have a familiarity that transcends culture.
“There’s a simplicity to them, really. There’s no fuss about it, and there’s no great expense,” Hannah says. “One size fits all, no matter where you’re from.”
Hannah will visit China in late February, and Chinese employees will visit Sydney for training. The menu will remain the same at the Chinese locations (with the goal of 300 cafes over the next 15 years) The majority of the ingredients will be sourced in Australia and shipped to China.
“It’s going to be a very authentic Australian pie,” says Hannah. “It’s a patriotic, flag-waving exercise for Australian export.”