Garnet Sleep's biggest problem may lie in persuading Americans to sound like Britons when they pronounce the name of his new meat-pie product, Mr. Pastie. But when hungry customers walk into High's Dairy Stores for a bite to eat, Sleep says they should refer to this meat-and-potatoes cousin to the Cornish game hen as "Mr. PASS-tee," rather than using the pronunciation of the accessories sometimes worn by exotic dancers.
Sleep, the owner of an advertising agency in Bethesda, was taking a cue from his Cornish ancestors when he proposed four months ago to High's that they offer his Mr. Pastie's "A Meal-in-the-Hand" pies as the centerpiece of the chain's entry into the fast food market. He explained that, during a visit to Cornwall to trace his lineage, he discovered the origins of his grandparents' fondness for pasties.
"In Cornwall, every day almost everything stops at the noon hour, and you'll find lines going into the bakeries of people picking up their pasties," Sleep said. "You'll smell the pasties being baked everywhere you go. As I understand it, hundreds of years ago, the pastie was filled with cereal. Then someone got the idea of making it with meat. Then the community fell on hard times and they went to potatoes."
The pasties that began appearing about two weeks ago in the freezers of most metropolitan area High's are baked by about 10 people employed in a bakery in Penargyl, Pa., the town to which Sleep's grandfather emigrated from Cornwall. Sleep said the daily Cornish pastie tradition has become a weekly custom there.
"One day a week in Penargyl they have pastie day, which has been traditional for about 100 years," he said. "It's a real community recipe. On Tuesday, people get their pasties. They make their orders a week in advance. It's quite an event. I attended a funeral recently in the area, and the discussion in the hearse was that 'today is pastie day and after the funeral, we'll pick up our pasties.' "
Sleep said he has been harboring the idea of marketing his family recipe for about 20 years but that the dream began to be realized only four months ago.
"I had become aware that High's was interested in a new convenience food that could be microwaved in the store or taken home, so I casually mentioned the pastie during production of a High's television commercial by my agency," Sleep said. "Then I made arrangements with the management of High's for them to taste it. They liked it immediately and we agreed less than a week later to market it in High's ."
Sleep created a company and incorporated it as Real English Foods, a name chosen on the strength of his belief that there is "a resurgence in interest in British food" in the United States.
In a week or so, all of High's local stores will be selling Mr. Pastie for about $2 each, according to Sleep. He also said he made an agreement last week with another "convenience chain," which he declined to identify, to market the product, adding that three other chains have expressed an interest in tasting the pies. Potential franchise investors have approached Sleep with the idea of Mr. Pastie carry outs, with possible locations on the Atlantic City, N.J., boardwalk and in a Washington area shopping mall.
Sleep acknowledges the possibility that, with rapid expansion of his company, the quality of the "handmade" Mr. Pastie pie could suffer. But he has decided that increasing the price of his product is preferable to changing the recipe or using mass production techniques.
"We're committed to quality because we realize that now we have 100 percent of the market, but someday there may be other pastie products and we may have only 40 percent," he said. "We believe that at the moment, with 10 to 12 people, we can operate profitably if those people can produce 'X' number of units. We can hire more people and produce more. But like Haagen Dazs ice cream, which is sold at $2 a pint, we'd rather raise the price than sacrifice quality."