cecn.com Friday, Feb 2, 2018
Chronicle Updated: 8:00 PM EDT May 2, 2018
In Worcester, the name Table Talk has been synonymous with pie since 1924…especially the beloved four-inch pie…”me snack,” as some say.
Not all 10,000 pies an hour make it to market. Good news for us, those deemed perfectly imperfect can be had at bargain prices at the pie store on Green Street.
By Enjoli Francis, Eric Noll, Bob Henault, Esther Castillejo
Dec. 14, 2017
Table Talk Pies in Worcester, Massachusetts, was founded in 1924 and is still family-owned. Each week, 300 workers bake up to 4 million of the company’s signature mini pies.
What was the motive behind building the new facility?
Our rationale for the new facility started with the realization of the growth we have experienced in our business over the last several years. We have been fortunate to have our sales almost double within the last six years. We saw there was a need to expand.
By Peter S. Cohan
Over a hundred years ago, a sheep rustler in northern Greece killed a shepherd. Absent that tragedy, local pie maker Table Talk might not exist today.
As Table Talk CEO Harry Kokkinis explained in a September 27 interview, a sheep rustler killed his great grandfather in Macedonia – which was then part of Turkey and was home to Serbians, Romanians, Albanians and other groups. In 1912, Mr. Kokkinis’s grandfather immigrated to America to find a job so he could feed his family in Macedonia. Today Mr. Kokkinis – after significant ups and downs over the intervening years – leads the now nearly-$100 million (estimated 2016 revenues) pie empire that his grandfather co-founded back in 1924.
Theodore Tonna – Mr. Kokkinis’s grandfather – and Angelo Cotsidas met and worked at a bakery in Worcester. Before that Mr. Tonna was working at a bakery in Woonsocket, R.I.
The company started as a bread bakery. “Mr. Tonna had recently moved to Worcester, because there was a larger Greek population and a better market for bread and pastry. The owner at the bakery they were both working at was looking to sell and move back to Greece. They saw this as the perfect opportunity to open their own bakery – on Clayton Street, which is now underneath Route 290 near Belmont Street. They financed the bakery with money they had set aside due to their hard work. Their bread was very popular with the locals, so they wanted to expand into pies because they felt pies represented America and everyone loves pie. They were trying to come up with a name for the company based on my grandfather’s initials – TT – and agreed to call it Table Talk,” said Mr. Kokkinis.
Table Talk’s first customers were the local bakeries and grocers that were already buying their bread. The pies were sold in the store front and also out of the back of a truck. As Mr. Kokkinis explained, “They believed quality was their most important product. Mr. Tonna would say, ‘Pies have to be made with romance.’”
One of the challenges with a family business is what to do when the founders retire. Table Talk could not find a successor among the three founding families, so it sold the company in 1965 to Beechnut, a maker of baby food and other products, for $15 million to $20 million – a price that Mr. Kokkinis said was reported by the Telegram & Gazette. At the time, Table Talk was “the largest pie bakery in the country at the time with over 400 employees,” he said.
The main protagonist of the next part of the story was Mr. Tonna’s son-in-law, Christos Cocaine. Mr. Cocaine’s last name was changed from Kokkinis – which understandably raises questions in the minds of people who hear or read it for the first time.
From here, Table Talk headed downward. “Mr. Cocaine continued to work at the bakery even after it was sold until 1970. Beechnut was subsequently bought by Squibb, and Mr. Cocaine left in 1977. Squibb decided to sell it to Texas General, a leveraged buyout firm which pretty much ran the business into the ground. Its doors closed in 1984,” he said.
But at that point, the Table Talk story took a much better turn. “In 1985, Mr. Cocaine bought back the bakery, the building and the name – financed by a bank loan and a mortgage on the building – and built the business back up on our four-inch snack pies. In 1986, he reopened Table Talk – deciding to focus on the snack pies, because some of Table Talk’s restaurant customers – diners and luncheonettes – were going out of business as the fast food industry was becoming more popular. Table Talk sold the snack pies to grocers and convenience stores.”
Mr. Kokkinis came to work at Table Talk with his father in 2003, and took on the chief executive officer role after his father passed away in February 2015.
“In a few short years there were over 100 employees and we had over $30 million in sales. Since 2008 we have enjoyed great growth thanks to new products including eight inch pies and frozen private-label pies. Today we have over 300 full time and seasonal employees and sold over 100 million four inch pies in 2015 all over the United States. Our 2016 sales are trending towards $100 million,” Mr. Kokkinis explained.
Table Talk is investing in its local brand – planning to open a retail store that sells pies, on Green Street in October.
A story that started with a Greek tragedy a century ago has had a happy ending in Worcester.
By Noah R. Bombard | email@example.com
When Table Talk Pies owner Harry Kokkinis was just 3 or 4 years old, his father took him one weekend to the family factory in Worcester’s Kelley Square. There, in an office, Kokkinis’ grandfather, Greek immigrant and company founder Theodore Tonna, and his business partner Angelo Cotsidas would often have a sampling of pies from the day’s production.
“They had a pumpkin pie there and I still remember them offering me a piece,” Kokkinis recalls.
He quickly gobbled it up.
“They said, ‘Oh, you like it that much? Have another piece.'”
He had another piece. And then another.
“All of a sudden my father turned around and said, ‘You ate the whole thing!'”
It was Kokkinis’ first piece of a much bigger pie that he would one day inherit — a multi-million dollar family business that today produces a whopping 3.6 million pies a week and employs more than 300 people between its Canal District production plant in Worcester and another location it recently opened in Shrewsbury. The company also just announced plans to build an additional production plant in the long-vacant South Worcester Industrial Park where it will hire 50 more employees. It is opening a retail store on Green Street — the first Table Talk retail store in more than 20 years.