In Conversation | Willy's Pies
Will Lewis - former top line chef at Shoreditch institutions Brat & St.John - has swapped banging the pans together for the brush and egg wash and hasn’t looked back since. Willy’s Pies, a love child conceived during the pandemic has developed into one of the great culinary success stories of this time. It has one main aim; putting a British classic back on the map. After all, food at its core is a vessel for culture and is utilised to break ground and ignite conversation, and that’s just what Will & business partner Josh have set out to achieve with Willy’s Pies. We caught up with the tastemakers, wearing their favourite Folk AW22 bits, to chat all things Pies, life, and their favourite off-grid London hangouts.
So, how did Willy’s Pies come to fruition? Plus, I’ve got to ask you, what makes a good pie?
Will - Two weeks into the first lockdown, I like many others in the industry was furloughed. The midday beers and countless BBQs got a bit much - I needed to break up my day a bit and decided a pie delivery service could be a go. I’d make the pies, whack it on Instagram and then me and Tom (my flatmate at the time) would deliver them all round London, by pushy.
We started off with about 15-20 pies a week which quickly grew to over 100. Now in our very own commercial kitchen under the archway of London Fields, and our newly opened Netil market site, it really does feel like we’re only just beginning again - which keeps things fun and exciting.
We get this one a lot and for us it’s always the same answer – generosity. Nothing annoys us more than a pie that’s light on fillings. As much fun as we do have, we put a lot of care into what we do; taking particular aspects we’ve learnt in top end restaurants and applying it to a simple but loving product.
Quality of ingredients also, we try and support local as best as we can. Even our Ale used in our Steak, Ale and Kidney Pie is brewed in a town not too far from where I grew up – shout out Tring brewery! Plus, home-made pastry is essential for a top tier pie.
What are the processes involved in coming up with new fillings for your pies and where do you look for inspiration?
Will - Often it’s a 4am half asleep jot down in the notes. Clearly dreaming of the pies too, I wake up to these ideas and run with them. I also look to classic dishes from all over the world that I feel could work in pastry. Then it’s figuring out how to scale out the recipes. At that stage also comes the realism of being able to produce them, which is when Josh and I will sit down and recipe test, which usually involves consuming copious amounts of pie filling until we are happy. Currently on the menu we have coq au vin, beef shin ragu, roast shallot potato & leek as well as some bake at home classics such as celeriac, parsnip & raclette.
How do you find the balance in running the business and who takes care of what when it comes to the brand?
Will - I basically run the kitchen side of things, I think of the ideas for the changing menus and any specials. I also prat about on Instagram a lot, some will like it, some won’t. I think I’d find me annoying as well.
Josh - Naturally, as a young business, there's a lot of overlap between who takes on what in terms of responsibility, but generally speaking I take on operational and administrative duties.
All pies aside, what qualities do you look for in workwear? and how would you describe your style?
Will – I used to have a laugh with the old head chef at Rochelle when I worked there about the chef whites that kitchens supply you with, putting on oversized trousers and baggy whites wasn’t exactly kicking your day off on the most flattering foot. It definitely didn’t make you feel yourself either, these days I dress in what reflects me - I like well-designed, functional gear that makes me motivated to get stuck in. We’re building a brand after all, so it’s about presenting ourselves too - it’s almost as important as how our boxes look.
Josh – It needs to tread a line between hard-wearing and comfortable, I’m definitely dressing with function in mind. Fleece for the cooler days in the archway for sure, and as Will mentioned: if you’re feeling yourself, your output is going to be a hell of a lot better. Also, an outfit you can both go to work and the pub in, is a huge plus.
What have you loved the most about the whole experience?
Josh - For me, and get your hanky's out for this one, it has to be building something to be proud of with a best mate.
Will - It sounds naff but it’s a rollercoaster - bloody hell - but we’re in it together. We take massive pride in doing things how we want to do it and stick to that ethos throughout. We get to work with people and brands like Folk who we love and respect and that’s a really good feeling. Oh and getting Ian Wright on board as an investor, madness.
Fast forward a couple years in, how are things for Willy's Pies, where do you see things heading?
Josh - Probably like all out world domination really, no prisoners, everyone gorging on Willy's Pies, you know, the normal stuff.
Will - Things are solid at Willy’s pies. I think I can vouch for me and Josh in saying we love working for ourselves. Makes getting up in the morning a lot easier. We’re taking things one step at a time but have countless ideas for what’s next, without veering too far from the path and end goal of getting Willy’s pies into supermarkets and becoming a household name.
Opening our site at Netil Market has also been an important step in giving the brand a permanent face. Gaining the support of Folk has been an exciting step, a brand that really mirrors the ethos that we strive to push for as a brand ourselves, we are excited to work on some projects together, perhaps some staff uniforms and other bits, but more will come on that.
Starting off as mates, what’s this venture meant for you both and how do you find coming to work with each other?
Will - I lived in Melbourne for a couple of years. I met my mate Tom out there who introduced me to Josh upon arrival back in London. The rest is history really. In terms of the venture, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I felt like I slightly lacked purpose as a line cook - I didn’t want to climb the ladder to become a head chef. I just knew I wanted my own thing so I feel blessed to be in that position and doing it with a best mate.
Josh - I spoke to someone recently who couldn't understand the idea of a business partner, but honestly, having someone there to lean on in the tough times and to celebrate with in the good times, I wouldn't change a thing.
Lastly, Pies aside again- where do you boys love to head for a plate when you’re not in the kitchen yourselves?
Will – I’ll speak on behalf of Josh on this one. Josh will opt for a chicken bake and a ham and cheese baguette from Greggs (might have thrown you under the bus there Josh). Personally, I could drop all the London big hitters, but have really fallen for a few spots near me on Hoe Street, Walthamstow. Etles, Lahore express, Saltan kitchen, Mannoush Lebanese and Adam’s Naans to name a few. Oh, and also Singburi if you’re keen to stretch the legs a little, all very lucky to have on our doorstep.
Link to view our full AW22 collection here
Photography By Freddie Payne