Amanda Wilson has refused to give up on her family’s dream of running a pie company, despite the loss of her father to coronavirus earlier this year.
Jim Hodge, who founded The Pie Mill, based at Blencathra Business Centre, near Threlkeld, with his wife Margaret and daughter Amanda in 2005, died at the start of April, but the family decided to keep the business going, with online sales taking off during lockdown.
More than eight years ago, Jim and Margaret retired from the company, leaving their legacy to Amanda and a small team of locally-based staff.
Amanda said: “The Pie Mill was always dad’s dream. My parents used to have the Mill Inn at Mungrisdale and dad was the chef. I grew up with delicious home-made casseroles and fish dishes. Dad was always the chef at home, not mum.”
The inspiration for The Pie Mill came from another time of hardship when Amanda’s family had to pull together. “We started making pies when foot and mouth hit in 2001. It was quiet at the Mill Inn, so we made pies for charities helping those affected by the disease. The Pie Mill came from people asking to take the pies home and we started offering deliveries,” said Amanda.
Speaking about her father, she said: “It was very hard because when he was poorly I had to self-isolate for 14 days. I was self-isolating with mum right through lockdown, and my husband and family stayed on the family farm.”
The family decided to keep the business going, with Amanda saying she was driven by her dad’s passion for The Pie Mill. Between April and June, a special hamper range, launched pre-lockdown, boosted online sales, with customers enjoying savoury and fruit pies.
From early June, Amanda was able to reopen with the support of her supervisor Lesley Pattinson, who has worked for the business for 15 years and whose daughter also now works there.
Amanda said: “Our business is very family orientated. We’re all very good friends because we’ve worked together for so long.”
The Pie Mill has now branched out and sells artisan products for the Westmorland family’s deli counter and farm shop at Tebay Services on the M6; a range of local pubs in the North East, and through an e-commerce site on its own website.
“Our most popular product is still, and has always been, our steak and ale pie called the Blencathra,” said Amanda, whose pies are named after fells and mountains in the Lake District and are made with local meat from the butcher at Tebay Services. The Blencathra pie has Robinson’s ale in it — the same brew Jim and Margaret used to sell at the Mill Inn.
Amanda added: “We class ourselves as a small family business, but we do want to expand more into pubs.
“I’m looking forward to Christmas when we do a special pie with turkey, stuffing and red cranberries.”