Entrepreneurship is all about satisfying a hunger — it's about recognizing a demand in the market and meeting it. For Lauren Duxbury and Adam Panayiotou, it was about actual hunger: their own.
Partners in love and labor, the two emigrated with their families to the U.S. from South Africa. And it was a shared longing for the flaky, delectable savory pies that are a staple in South Africa but virtually absent in the States that propelled them to start their own pie-making venture. Duxbury and Panayiotou's hunger was personal, tinged with nostalgia and quite specific. They nevertheless tapped into a more popular hunger for handmade, handheld food. Launched in 2014, in their adopted home of Atlanta, Georgia, Panbury's is a growing retail and e-commerce entrant into the burgeoning fast-casual food sector.
With a second cafe location now open, Duxbury and Panayiotou talked with Mic about starting from scratch, serving a niche product to a general market, baking e-commerce into the operation and awakening the entrepreneurial hunger that turns an idea into a successful business.
Mic: How did you go about raising funding?
Panayiotou: The first round of funding was all family. Between Lauren's family and mine, we were able to raise enough to buy equipment, get the first kitchen set up, and make it look nice for us. It was really just between the two families that got us going.
Duxbury: We tried to keep things minimal and try to do the best with what we had. We didn't need to get funding again for a couple of years. We really watched every single penny and worked ourselves to the bone. We would be there from 6:30 in the morning to 7 at night, on our feet all day. We kept our staffing really, really minimal because that will really eat into your profits.
Panayiotou: Initially, for the first six months we were open, Lauren and I did the work of three people. I was running the kitchen, Lauren was running the front and we were both running back and forth when the other needed help. It wasn't ideal in some circumstances, but in the beginning we knew that we needed to do all the nitty gritty things ourselves to learn about our business.
Mic: What's unique about these pies?
Panayiotou: South African pies are unique in that they are the most handheld version of popularized pies in England, Australia, New Zealand. They are these extremely convenient grab-and-go food — kind of like the hot dog you'd find in gas stations but much better quality. The fillings are made with real ingredients — fresh vegetables, fresh meat — and they're unique in their convenience.
Duxbury: There's such an amazing food culture surrounding the pies. Africa takes these different types of cuisines and then puts them into pies so you have Indian curry pies or a spinach-and-feta pie that borrows from the Greek culture. We've taken it a step further by adapting it to American cuisine.
The shape itself is unique in America because when Americans think of hand pies they think of the half-moon shape or the round pie. Even that's been interesting trying to explain to people that it's a savory pie even though it's not oval. We make it oval because it stays together better.
Panayiotou: We've stuck to the traditional shape but just adjusted how we make the pastry and the fillings. We're pulling from places we've lived in. I grew up very close to New Orleans, where gumbo is a staple. Our gumbo pie is a seasonal special now.
Mic: You also have an e-commerce business. Who are you serving and what are the challenges of shipping food?
Panayiotou: We're serving people from California to New York, Florida and everything in between. People will order pies to be delivered to members or to themselves for a special event. E-commerce is booming in general. It's starting to get into the food industry with people ordering groceries online.
We are shipping a perishable product so we need to maintain it's quality and keep a safe, cold temperature. We spent a good amount of time researching packaging, like gel packs, cold packs, ice packs, the ability to ship with dry ice, regular ice.
Duxbury: And then you have the be careful how much ice packs you load up, because it gets pretty heavy and then your costs go up.
Panayiotou: There's a fine balance between the space you have in your actual packaging, and how many ice packs you can fit in versus product, and what that does to the dimensional weight of your package and how it adds to your cost.
Duxbury: Space saving is another challenge. We were lucky that our original store was in an office, so there was space downstairs. But if someone's starting an online business out of their garage they're going to have a challenge finding space for all the shipping equipment and product because these boxes take up so much space.
Mic: You've recently opened a second cafe location. Is brick-and-mortar necessary if the e-commerce business is growing?
Panayiotou: I think it's difficult to have a brick and mortar [location] when you have one specific item. For instance, we know a lot of people making gourmet popcorns and brittles and caramels etc. but I don't know if that would generate a huge customer base coming into your store just to buy one flavor of popcorn as you get started.
If you have the savvy to do the online marketing, the website design and good enough prices to stay competitive online, these days — for single products like that — that would be the way to go. For us, we have a full product line, a full kitchen, and we really fall into that fast-casual bakery category so we can have the brick-and-mortar, and we have enough products to serve a larger customer base than just a few options.
Mic: What should any aspiring entrepreneur know about starting and running a successful business?
Panayiotou: You need a lot of help. I was lucky that I had Lauren and Ray, Lauren's dad, my parents, who have had experience in small businesses, and family members that have run small businesses. You need a support system for sure.
Also, teach yourself a lot. Don't go with your initial instinct, which is to hire a bookkeeper or a consultant or extra staff because you don't want to put in the hours. You need to be open to sitting down, learning new skills, new concepts, doing a lot of research and reading.
Duxbury: Research, research, research! When you are looking for a location, staff members, what products to sell, just learn every aspect of it. Be prepared to do the nitty gritty, the small tasks. Just because you're starting a business, you can't come in as a boss and tell people what to do. You've got to get used to doing everything, even the mundane stuff.
Panayiotou: Also, anyone you contract with — whether to build your space, lease your office or deliver goods — you need multiple comparative quotes. We ended up getting six or seven quotes from contractors to build out the second store. The first quote was $200,000 to build out a tiny space. The quote we ended up going with was maybe a quarter of that. If we hadn't done our research, we could have wasted so much money.
Duxbury: Also, working with your boyfriend, my dad ... there are going to be fights, so you've got to be flexible. There's always a problem, and there isn't a week where something doesn't go wrong. If you let that problem hit you in the face and get you down all the time, you're not going to manage. You're going to have to maneuver around the problem and make it work somehow.