Wharton: Saving Morrison Meat Pies
West Jordan •I'm not sure when I ate my first Morrison Meat Pie. Since the venerable company once operated its bakery and store near my grandparents' home on State Street, my guess is that I was pretty young.
The Scottish meat pies with the slightly spiced meat baked inside a delicious pastry, covered with chili or beef broth and often with a bit of ketchup, were one of my parents' favorite dinners.
But, until visiting the company's fifth owners, Susan and Gene Tafoya, at their sparking new production facility just west of Airport No. 2 in West Jordan, I never knew the history of one of America's oldest food companies.
Thomas Morrison started making the Scottish pies in 1883 after migrating from New Zealand to Utah. He sold hot pies near Temple Square out of a little box with coals in it. When the business grew, he moved the plant to Reed Avenue near West High School, where his sons operated it for a while. The company moved to State Street and then to an area near West Valley City.
Wendell Wagstaff, one of Gene Tafoya's mentors, owned the company for years. When the Tafoyas purchased the company in 2004, it was close to bankruptcy.
"We couldn't figure out why a company that has been around so long wasn't growing," said Gene, who once worked for pies at the Reed Avenue facility near where he grew up. "It had a great product and a loyal customer base."
But reviving Morrison Meat Pies wasn't easy in an economy where banks weren't lending. Grants from the Utah Pork Association and Utah Woolgrowers Association helped. But the Tafoyas, who came from corporate backgrounds, thought that a company that survived two world wars and the Great Depression should be able to make it through the Great Recession.
The company moved a few months ago into its new plant, where 12 employees make close to 5,000 pies a day. Though the bakery has been automated somewhat, most of the pies are still made by hand using some original stainless-steel rings to form the pies.
In addition to the traditional Scottish meat pies, the Tafoyas have expanded the line to include Australian pies, which include mushrooms and different kinds of meat and vegetables. In the future, the couple hope to create breakfast pies with eggs and either bacon or sausage to tap into the convenience store market, as well as a spinach and feta pie and South American empanadas. They also make a frozen "chili brick" that can be prepared to put over the pies. A deal with South Korea may help the company add more employees in the near future. Fans also can order the pies online for delivery.
The vast majority of the pies are packaged and quickly frozen; they are available in most major food stores in Utah, and prices range based on each store. But those who time things right can still purchase the pies hot out of the oven at the West Jordan plant, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The bakery charges $1.50 for the original Scottish meat pie and $1.75 for the Australian pies.
Gene and Susan love to hear stories about Morrison Meat Pies in a time before McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, when the pies were one of the original convenience foods.
They tell the story of a truck driver who parked his rig blocks away and walked to the plant after searching for it. With tears in his eyes, he told the Tafoyas about how his aunt, who raised him and his sister, bringing the hot pies home for dinner in a paper sack. Gene drove the man back to the truck.
A memory book at the store is filled with similar stories.
"People tell us thanks for still being here," said Gene. "That's the reward."
The reward for customers is the simple dinner of a Morrison Meat Pie. I purchased two dozen hot pies before leaving the plant and have savored them for lunch and dinner ever since, sharing three with my mom, who loves them almost as much as I do.