In Australia, football and meat pies have long been a match made in heaven, so perhaps it was no surprise when former NRL player Sean Garlick started the eponymous Garlo’s Pies.
Garlick, whose decade-long career saw him crowned captain of both the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters, retired from the field in 1999.
Having earned a crust as a policeman throughout his football career, as well as briefly as an actor – starring across from Nicole Kidman in Watch the Shadows Dance (1987) – Garlick was ready for a change.
“When I finished footy I was looking for something to do. I had a brother that was a pastry cook in a local pie shop and a father that was retiring from the waterfront… so we started our first [pie] shop in Maroubra,” Garlick told Your Money Live.
A live broadcast of a pie-eating contest at the store featuring “some of the biggest names and frames in the game” on Channel 9’s The Footy Show helped successfully launch the business.
Back then the footballer had no idea what the business was going to become.
“I stayed on at the Rabbitohs in administration there. It’s only as the pie shop got bigger and bigger, that I had to leave it and really get involved,” Garlick said.
A year after the first store opened, another followed.
Sure enough, it seemed Sydney couldn’t get their fill as 13 Garlo’s Pies stores opened within the first five years.
“But I started to realise that rents were going up and wages were going up but sales weren’t going up at the same rate. The way to grow the business was not to open more shops but to just make more pies,” Garlick said.
“We started to scale back the shops, ramping up production and that’s when we got our economies of scale.”
The entire family was eventually enlisted to manage the burgeoning business with both of Garlick’s parents, his two siblings, three sons and wife all coming on board to manage a 93-employee business that produces 80,000 pies every day.
However, it wasn’t always clear sailing.
“When we opened our first store, not only had we never run a business before, but we also didn’t know anyone who had ever run a business. We literally just made it up as we went along,” Garlick said.
Admitting plenty of errors were made along the way, including just recently when 200 pallets of pies were made with the wrong recipe, the business is now eyeing international expansion – no mean feat for a product that the rest of the world hasn’t even heard of.
“We opened a store in America in 2014,” Garlick said. “My brother went over and made pies from scratch and the Americans couldn’t believe it. They expect apple pies or pumpkin pies so a meat pie was something really different for them. It went gangbusters.”
That was no doubt helped along by Russell Crowe’s love for the product.
The Australia actor and current owner of Garlick’s old team, the Rabbitohs, tweeted about the grand opening of the LA store to his followers.
It’s no wonder, given Garlick sends him a box of pies every time he’s cheering on the Souths from his corporate box.
As for the business, its already exporting as far away as Japan, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, striving to put the humble Aussie meat pie on the map.
Watch the full interview above.