Meet the bakers who introduced the Australian meat pie to America

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Marietta, Georgia: Neville Steel’s mission to introduce Americans to the Australian meat pie began in a bustling suburb about 30 minutes from downtown Atlanta, a few months after the September 11 terrorist attack.

It was here, on a charming shopping strip in the Georgia city of Marietta, that the Australian Bakery Cafe opened its doors in December 2001, in the shadow of one of the country’s darkest days.

Neville Steel, co-owner of the Australian Bakery Cafe in Georgia. Credit: Farrah Tomazin

“It was a challenging time to start a business, but Australians have always been treated well over here in the States,” says Steel, who started the venture with his childhood friend and fellow Victorian baker, Mark Allen.

“From the moment we opened our doors, it was very busy – and very exciting. We were probably riding on the success of Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin back then, but it’s been going really well ever since.”

Inside the cafe is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for homesick expats, and a snapshot of Australia for the curious tourists and residents who have been flocking here for years.

A giant image of the Sydney Harbour and Opera House adorns the wall. Shelves are filled with packets of Tim Tams and jars of Vegemite. A frame with “How to Make Gravy” instructions, autographed by singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, sits opposite a Foster’s beer plaque, while a menu lists a bunch of signature “sanga” sandwiches: the Great White Shark; the Dundee Turkey; the Down Under Beef.

A classic Aussie meat pie from the Australian Bakery Cafe in Marietta, Georgia.Credit: Farrah Tomazin

And in a glass display cabinet, sitting among Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and other baked treats, lies the iconic meat pie that has become a staple of footy matches of all codes everywhere: ground topline sirloin caked in gravy and encased in pastry with extra seasoning for the American pallet.

“We’ve had to adapt a bit more than we would back home because they love their salty stuff,” says Steel.

The business was a labour of love for Steel and Allen, two lifelong friends born three weeks apart in the Victorian country town of Boort, about 255 kilometres from Melbourne.

The Australian Bakery Cafe in the bustling city of Marietta.Credit: Farrah Tomazin

The pair lost touch in their early teens when Steel’s father sold their family bakery and moved to Berriwillock, but they unexpectedly reunited again when they both started in the same class at Melbourne’s William Angliss Food College.

After embarking on their own careers, they joined forces in 1991 to open the American Rock & Roll restaurant in Bendigo. But it wasn’t long before another seed was planted: to introduce a piece of Australia to the US.

Allen was the first to move across the Pacific, choosing Marietta as the place to relocate because it had a high population of Australians, Brits and South Africans, many of whom make up much of the customer base today, both in person and online. Soon after, Steel followed. Neither have looked back since.

“We get a lot of people from Commonwealth countries,” he says. “Over 100,000 South Africans are in Atlanta, so they’re a big part of our business too, along with the English, Irish, Scots, Kiwis, Fijians…”

“Over the year we’re probably making about 500 pies a day and do a lot of mail order as well through the website. That’s a big part of our business, particularly as it gets colder for Christmas or Australia Day here.”

There have, of course, been challenges. The COVID pandemic upended business across the US in 2020, while the murder of George Floyd in May that year sparked race riots across the country and made it impossible to deliver to certain cities.

But through it all, the Australian bakery created by two blokes from Boort has survived and thrived in the suburbs of Atlanta.

“Even during COVID, when we never knew what was going to happen from one week to the next thing, many people were sitting at home on the computer and looking at food, so we ended up still being busy,” Steel says.

“And a lot of people that come over here will say that our pies are even better than the ones they tasted in Australia. That’s always been the aim.”

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