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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 12:33 GMT
Earning a crust outside Cornwall
By Jemima Laing
BBC News, Cornwall

Arron Cocking, Mark Christophers and Gavin Cocking
The Cocking brothers and Mark Christophers were schoolfriends
If there is an opposite to taking coals to Newcastle then the West Cornwall Pasty Co is it.

While each of the six million pasties it sells each year is handmade in Cornwall and the firm's headquarters are in Helston its closest shop is some 170 miles away in Wells in Somerset.

And the furthest flung part of the business, which now employs 380 people, is in Glasgow.

It was a humble start for the firm, which has a determinedly family feel with its board consisting of a father and his two sons, a pair of sisters and a schoolfriend, all from Cornwall.

Going into competition with other pasty businesses in Cornwall wouldn't be helpful
Mark Christophers

The current business emerged from the ashes of a previous pasty enterprise run by brothers Arron and Gavin Cocking and their father Ken, which eventually foundered.

Undaunted they decided to start again and the brothers called on schoolfriend Mark Christophers and sisters Vicky and Sarah Barber to join their new venture.

Without much fanfare the firm's first shop opened in Chippenham in 1998 and signalled the start of a rapid expansion which now takes in 39 sites across the UK, bringing the Cornish staple to a whole new army of pasty fans.

The business is celebrating the opening of its 40th shop in Cirencester on Friday but there are still no plans to open any shops in the pasty's heartland.

"We are all from Cornwall and Ken and the two girls are all still based there but we have no desire to go head to head with anyone selling pasties in Cornwall," said Mark.

"We are heavily into promoting Cornwall, it's what we are all about.

"Going into competition with other pasty businesses in Cornwall wouldn't be helpful."

The business began to expand into market towns initially, where access to suitable sites and leases was easier, and the first London shop was opened in St James's in 2001.

"But we weren't sure how receptive the London market would be."

West Cornwall Pasty Co pasties
The Oxford English Dictionary says the pasty dates from about 1300

Those fears proved unfounded and there is now a string of 14 shops across the capital but the opening of the Covent Garden branch was a particularly memorable milestone for Mark.

"It was too good an opportunity to miss in terms of what it would do for the brand," he said.

The business' growth has been matched by an expansion in its range with fillings like the traditional meat, onion, turnip and potato being joined by more modern twists such as chicken and balti and cheese and tomato basil.

The company was recently listed in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 and awarded best emerging brand for reinventing the traditional miners' snack and carving a niche in the freshly-baked food market.

And it recently won the fastest growing business award in the 50-plus employee category at the Sage Business Awards, in partnership with the Daily Telegraph.

Although industry recognition and garnering serious business awards are important Mark believes retaining the family feel is just as vital.

"Everyone says don't go into business with family or friends but it's just not true.

"We always work things out together starting from the basis that we are all such good friends and we don't want to do anything to jeopardise that."

"We also want to have fun and want people to enjoy working for us."

18m turnover

As they celebrate eight years in business, expansion into Europe and franchising abroad are all possibilities for the future and Mark 39, has no regrets about abandoning a city career to become a fully-fledged "pasty boy".

"We always said that when we reached the 1m turnover mark we would all go for tea at the Ritz, we are turning over 18m now and still haven't done it," he said.

"Your goalposts just change all the time.

"We also said we would be happy with 30 shops and here we are opening our 40th with another four in the pipeline before January.

"Now I think 50 sounds like a good number.

"As long as there are good sites out there, we will keep expanding."




SEE ALSO:
Pasties challenge paella in Spain
06 Oct 05 |  Cornwall
Germans get a taste of Cornwall
10 Feb 04 |  Cornwall
Putting a price on pasty's worth
22 Jan 05 |  Cornwall


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