Upclose view of handpies

A Handpie Revolution

Chef Sarah Bennetto O’Brien launches The Handpie Company

Borden-Carleton, once famed as ‘the place you catch the ferry’, may be well on its way to reclaiming its esteemed place in the hearts and minds of Islanders. This time around, however, it’ll be known as ‘the place you get the best handpies in the world.’ At least that’s a version of the future that Chef Sarah Bennetto O’Brien is setting the stage to create with her launch of The Handpie Company. Located in Gateway Village, The Handpie Company opened its doors on March 20th, inviting visitors and Islanders to enjoy a hot handpie on the go or take home a frozen version for dinner.

“[It’s a] personal, portable savoury pie that is a staple in many countries and cultures worldwide,” said Bennetto O’Brien. Every culture has their own version of the handpie – empanadas and samosas are some familiar variations, but Bennetto O’Brien’s handpies are inspired by the much-beloved Cornish pasty, a staple comfort food in the United Kingdom.

At its essence, a handpie is a half moon, baked pastry typically filled with meat and/or root vegetables, though some of the 12 varieties The Handpie Company is offering defy these traditional norms. In fact, her roasted beet, corn, and goat cheese handpie was a customer favourite when Bennetto O’Brien ran Scapes, predecessor to The Handpie Company.

Sarah Bennetto O'Brien poses beside her new handpie warming station

Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

No stranger to the world of food or entrepreneurial adventures, Bennetto O’Brien has been cooking professionally since age 16 and earned her Red Seal chops at the age of 20. Since then she’s cooked her way across Canada, working at high-end resorts, hotels, camps, and as a private vegan chef, to name just a few of her culinary feats.

Bennetto O’Brien eventually landed on PEI to take an applied degree in culinary operations at Holland College. “I fell in love with PEI then, totally amazed with the strong local farming community that I found here not to mention a certain mustachioed chef I ended up marrying a year later.”

Her love affair with the Island compelled Bennetto O’Brien to return, after working in Halifax as a cook, and set up stakes in Borden-Carleton with her husband and son. In 2014 she opened Scapes in Gateway Village. Scapes offered a fresh, locally-sourced takeout menu of salads, soups, sandwiches and, of course, handpies.

“Customers loved our menu, but it was the handpies (12 different flavours of them!), that had them driving from all over the Island. We were turning bulk business away to keep up with our menu of locally-sourced, totally-from-scratch, chef-made food. With our sights set on expansion to make our pies more readily available to all Islanders and travellers alike, we’re laser focussing on making our handpies the best that they can be while increasing our volume,” said Bennetto O’Brien, explaining the decision to close Scapes and reimagine the space as The Handpie Company’s world headquarters.

Chef Sarah Bennetto O'Brien shows off the sign for her new business, The Handpie Company

Photo Credit: Richard Schroeter/Salty

Being an entrepreneur takes guts, enthusiasm, and energy, which Bennetto O’Brien appears to possess in spades. “The scary is the exciting! Entrepreneurship is an adventure in managing time, money, people, resources, media, et cetera and I thrive on it.”

In her bid to build a handpie empire, Bennetto O’Brien credits her team of local chefs, “epic hard-working kitchen assistant”, hospitable retail manager, and vocal Scapes fans for helping bring her vision to reality. She also found great value as a participant in the Food Island Partnership’s Food Excel Program. “I’m more of a doer than a planner, so forcing myself to present my process on paper and in front of a crowd was key.”

It is her passion for the local farming community that underpins the uniqueness of Bennetto O’Brien’s handpies. The list of local suppliers that she sources ingredients from is a long and impressive one that includes Barnyard Organics (for local organic Acadia wheat and certified organic chicken), ADL, Soleil’s Farm, Jen & Derek’s Farm, Sheldon MacQuarrie, Crystal Green Farms, Heart Beet Organics, and Island Taylored Meats for the pork, which “always gets delivered with tall tales from the city.”

She then transforms these ingredients into a warm, flaky pastry pie stuffed with flavourful filling combinations such as curried chickpea and potato, braised beef with mozzarella, bacon cheeseburger, BBQ pulled pork, chicken pot pie, and Acadian tourtiere. Though the taste alone is enough to convert many-a-sandwich-lover, Bennetto O’Brien enjoys pointing out that her handpies can be eaten with one hand, so they go well with high fives.

Sarah Bennetto O'Brien rolling pastry dough for her handpies.

Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

As The Handpie Company gets set to welcome summer visitors and Islanders, Bennetto O’Brien can’t help but dream about the longer-term potential of her new venture. While world domination isn’t out of the question, the savvy chef is equally excited about the possibility of getting handpies within easy reach of every Islander and visitor.

“We’d love to get our packaging ready to include nutritional information and full ingredients lists so that we can have our pies on the frozen shelves of your favourite local shops. And to have a small sort of ‘Pie Hole’ location in a more year-round environment.”

For now, you can find Bennetto O’Brien, her crew and her epic handpies at The Handpie Company’s Borden-Carleton location every day from 11am to 3pm.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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