Sam Jackson grew up in a coastal Australian city called Wollongong, about 50 miles south of Sydney, and his culinary skills have taken him all over the world. England. Scotland. The French Alps. Trinidad.
He’s cooked for rich people on plush and private yachts. But when he landed in Boston about seven years ago, he noticed a gaping hole in our local cuisine. And he aimed to fill it.
“My background was all this high-end fancy stuff for millionaires and billionaires,’’ Jackson said. “And I was like, yeah, but the meat pie to me is so humble, and I think I can get this across to more people. I just said, ‘I’ve got to give this a crack.’ So I just took the risk.’’
And that was the birth of KO Pies, which took root in 2010 in South Boston, around the corner from the venerable Amrheins restaurant. A classic beef pie is $6.25, and he’ll throw in a sausage roll for $3.75.
He’s got a steady stream of regular catering and walk-in customers. He and his partners have expanded into an East Boston location.
Business is good. But maybe not for long.
KO Pies’ little shop in Southie, on the corner of A and West Third streets, is being threatened by a huge condo development that — unless reasonableness intervenes at City Hall — will grow up and around it, creating a weird streetscape and long months of construction that could smother the small business.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority has approved the plans for some 100 condo units with retail shops on the first floor. The developer, Spaulding & Slye Investments, says it has dotted its i’s and crossed its t’s.
But the 37-year-old Jackson and his three partners feel railroaded. They say they’ve been shut out of the process. They say the city has changed its approval rules to accommodate the developer, a last-minute switch they equate with spot zoning. Jackson said he heard about community meetings only through word of mouth from loyal customers.
“Here’s this modern, brand-new building, and then there’s our little old building,’’ Jackson said. “It doesn’t make any sense. You don’t have to be an architect or a city planner to look at it and go: What’s that?’’
Jackson and his partners sat down months ago with the developer. The two sides could not reach agreement on a deal to either incorporate KO Pies into the new site or buy it out and allow it to flourish elsewhere.
When a community group was formed by local officials to review plans for the development, Jackson and his partners weren’t on it. Jackson said he tried — and failed — to get the attention of South Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan.
I called the council president last week to ask him about that. A staff member said he’d call me back. But Linehan, doubtlessly busy over his abacus trying to figure out his pension once that big raise goes through, never did.
What’s going on here? This is not urban planning. This is a failure of urban planning.
Now, some people have whispered in my ear that what’s at play here is greed. Sam Jackson didn’t get the money he wanted, so he’s taking his ball and going home.
Wait a minute. The guy has built a thriving business from scratch. He employs 14 people in two locations. If I had a nickel for every time a local politician lovingly embraced the virtues of mom-and-pop business, I’d be retired in Tahiti. The guy deserves fair compensation — and fair treatment.
The BRA’s approval of the Spaulding & Slye development was an important milepost, not the end of the process. There’s time for reason to prevail.
The BRA should go back to the drawing board. Broker a deal so the Duck Tours don’t have to add another stop, at which the driver points out a weird corner where a little pie company is shoehorned into a large condo complex and the tourists all laugh like crazy.
To Sam Jackson, that’s not funny.