After spending years working at one of the world's biggest shipping companies, Stu Thrush ditched the suit and tie for an apron, and headed from the office to the kitchen in pursuit of his dreams.
Photographs: Céline Martin-Pedersen
Text: Jakob Weizman
From the other side of the globe in the southern hemisphere, Stu Thrush navigated his way over to Denmark around eleven years ago while working for one of the country’s largest and oldest corporations, AP Møller-Mærsk, known around the world as a prominent shipping company.
Calling New Zealand home for most of his life, living in four of its largest cities, travelling the country top to bottom more times than he could count, and having also studied there, made Thrush ready to launch himself into what the rest of the world had to offer.
Thrush began hopping around the world after nabbing a position on a travelling project team with Mærsk, just after five years working at their New Zealand office. Sprawling himself across 15 countries, teaching newfound approaches to local Mærsk teams, the Kiwi found his home in Denmark soon enough.
“A fantastic opportunity and one which eventually led to a move to head office in Copenhagen. Five more great years here saw me start to call Denmark my new home,” said Thrush. “But, unfortunately, things were stagnant in my role at Mærsk, and I thought that since I wasn’t getting any younger, now was as good a time as any to try my hand at my own business.”
For someone that had been involved in the corporate world for quite some time, it would have been anyone’s guess that Thrush would do something related to the work he had been surrounding himself with for the last two decades. Instead, surprisingly, he went the culinary route, asking himself what was Denmark missing from its palate?
“I realised that there wasn’t really that grab and go meal option and thought to myself why on earth the pie could be so successful down under (New Zealand) and yet non-existent here in Europe. So without further ado, I googled how to make pies, watched a bunch of cooking YouTube clips, and got down and dirty in the kitchen making samples,” said Thrush.
Firstly, his only experience with pies beforehand had been just from looking over his mother’s shoulder in the kitchen, or working at a gas station that sold pies as a college student. So, Thrush took it upon himself to persevere with the kiwi ‘know-how can-do’ attitude, and educate himself in the world of pies in a country where pies are almost non-existent.
“The guys at the pub were my guinea pigs, and after some solid positive feedback I decided the pie concept could work,” he added. Not only the pub guys, but friends and family back home in New Zealand also had his back while he entered uncharted waters in the pastry industry.
To any international finding their footing in Denmark, support from friends and family back home can be reassuring and indispensable. For Thrush, growing up on small farms known as ‘lifestyle blocks’ surrounded by sheep, chickens and cows was a way of life growing up, finding friends from living all over the country in both the North and South Island, getting a taste of both city and country life.
“To be honest, the positivity from friends and family (whether they believed in the concept or not) was invaluable during the first years. Friends popping in to see how things were going, opening up opportunities or just joking that I would one day take over Denmark with pies. This created such an immensely positive mindset that proved amazing to my personal morale. They probably don’t know it, but it all added up, and I’m very grateful.”
Something for everyone
Thrush’s dreams turned into reality, with his pie shop and cafe Wild Kiwi Pies standing tall in Valby, located in the southwestern part of Copenhagen. Offering different types of pies, for example, the ‘Farmer,’ filled with beef steak, red pepper and caramelised onion or the ‘Waikikamukau’ containing minced beef and cheese, there’s a wide variety of bites to nibble on, including vegetarian options as well!
Of course, not all pies are Kiwi-influenced, as the down under shop also provides sweet pies such as apple and cinnamon and the tasty rhubarb. If you’re craving a hearty meal, there’s room for everyone’s appetite in their wide brunch menu. Thrush believes that the Danish love of pastry, combined with the typical Northern European meals centred around meat, would one day allow Danes to see the beauty of those two meshed together into a tasty pie. Today and beyond, that continues to become a reality for him and Wild Kiwi Pies.
“The beauty with pies is that usually there’s a taste for everyone.”
Thrush attributes the success of the pies to two main reasons, consistent quality and rejecting the satisfaction from the status quo. He believes that a pie is never perfect, and there can always be improvements to the process. This is how things become more efficient, and helps Thrush and his employees continue to strive for greatness.
“We had people come into the café during our first few weeks of opening and tell me this would never work, it was too simple, too one-dimensional. Those comments only made us work harder. I wasn’t about to start something I didn’t believe could succeed, and I wasn’t about to let some random dude with no idea tell me it wasn’t going to work either,” revealed Thrush.
Pie picture above courtesy of Sasha Scherg
Despite obstacles, Copenhagen’s diverse culinary life welcomed a little slice of New Zealand, in which Thrush, in fact, has a specific favourite from his homeland.
“Personally I love the butter chicken which, believe it or not, is a very traditional New Zealand pie flavour. Of course, the old school kiwi classics are mince and cheese or steak and cheese, pretty much anything with cheese really – that’s what sets the kiwi pie apart from other pie nations,” said Thrush.
It's not all about the pies
Having lived in Denmark for eleven years, he has geared himself up to obtain his Danish passport and fallen head over heels for the land of hygge and legos, and indeed loves the Scandinavian wonderland.
“I’m sure my parents back home would hate to read this, but Denmark’s my new home. There’s so much to love about this place and hopefully once I get that language down, I’ll be allowed to get that beautiful Danish citizenship too,” said Thrush.
Finding yourself in a foreign land, starting a business unheard of before can be quite the challenge, but for Thrush, the qualities that Denmark offers make the ship sail smoothly. Shifting your eyes towards the things on the small-scale can really improve an international’s experience here in Denmark, according to Thrush.
The growing international community and the prevalence of the English language in the country definitely made the road more manageable, but it’s the mindset above all that helps foreigners settle in.
“I had to accept that this was the new me, my new life and success wasn’t going to happen without a lot of hard work; it was going to take small steps. It’s funny, but once I accepted that this was a long term project, it became much easier to handle. I didn’t put myself under as much pressure for instant success and instead focused on the small things that would eventually lead to future prosperity,” assured Thrush.
On the more humorous side, Thrush believes there wasn’t much of a culture shock moving to Denmark and transitioning from the down under lifestyle to Scandinavian contemporary.
“It’s a bit odd, but when I think about it, a lot of what you would consider culture shock no longer exists here. Not because I have been here long enough, but it literally doesn’t exist – free Sunday S-tog, shops closed on Sundays, people stopping for the red man at a crossing, or the myth that Danes have great work-life balance and no one is stressed,” said Thrush.
"Burning inside of any international living in Denmark, is the dream that keeps them going and using the best of what Denmark has to offer."
Corona no match for pie-lovers
When the pandemic began, it became a problem for countless local businesses in the Copenhagen metropolitan area, including Wild Kiwi Pies, questioning whether or not it would survive.
“In the early days, the COVID-19 crisis hit us like a ton of bricks. It was a bit of a shock, but I feel the hardest part was the uncertainty about what to do. Could we stay open? Should we stay open? If we closed was that it for the business?” said Thrush.
Yet, as mentioned before, the Kiwi ‘know-how can do’ attitude managed to pull Thrush through with creativity and adapting to the conditions that the pandemic had set forth for the business. During March and April, the shop closed its doors for walk-in customers and moved everything online delivery style, in the course of one night.
Thankfully, the business prevailed and began expanding their delivery zones to other parts of Copenhagen, and even different areas of Sealand like Roskilde and Helsingør. Thrush pointed out that he was lucky to have such a flexible product that could be delivered to people’s doorsteps, frozen pies that were ready to heat and eat paved the way for a successful solution amidst a time of crisis.
Also, there were no layoffs to any employees due to the assistance given by the Danish government, which covered 90% of employee wages during the beginning of the lockdown. Even though it was only Stu and another fellow employee working deliveries while the shop was closed, the newly changed business model was adaptable to continuing the success of Wild Kiwi Pies.
It was also the location of the pie shop that lent a helping hand during the pandemic earlier this year. Thrush explained that restaurants and bakeries that were located in the city centre were struggling more than those located further outside of Copenhagen, such as Valby because less and less people were coming into the city centre, instead preferring to work from home where possible.
“People would always come in after we re-opened our cafe and shop asking how we were doing during the tough times, and honestly I’d tell them we were doing pretty well,” said Thrush. “We’re all part of one big community here that likes pies.”
Onwards to the future
Burning inside of any international living in Denmark, is the dream that keeps them going and using the best of what Denmark has to offer. Thrush continues to do this day in and day out.
“Part of my ‘step out’ philosophy is about having dreams, not plans, so I don’t look too far ahead when it comes to life choices. I want to do more of what makes me happy,” said Thrush. “There’s a lot to see and do here in Europe, and Copenhagen is one of the top places to base yourself to realise that dream.”
Thrush mentions how each and every time a friend or family from back in New Zealand comes out to visit, they always reflect on their time there telling him “I can see why you stayed Stu.” This Kiwi has indeed found his nest here, residing comfortably in the capital city with his long-term Danish partner Mia and a few pet guinea pigs, loving life.
Leaving a comfortable paying job to make pies is quite the odd story, but the success continues to grow for Thrush and Wild Kiwi, serving as an inspiration for both internationals and Danes alike that it’s never too late to dream big and chase after it.
“I get the question a lot from people asking why I left New Zealand, and my answer is always well I’ve seen what there is to see and there’s a whole world out there yet to explore. New cultures, people, stories to be heard and sights to be seen,” added Thrush.