My wife and I were in the supermarket business for 20 years, taking it from a three-person operation to one with 23 members of staff. We lived in a small country town, with people feeling the need to drive out of town to do their shopping – something we managed to reverse – and an essential part of the operation was a fully functioning butcher shop.
We employed three senior butchers in our time, the first having to leave due to failing kidneys, the second leaving ‘by mutual agreement’ due to lack of customer skills (something I’d always thought a requisite part of a butcher’s makeup), and the third, thankfully, proving every bit as good as the first. In time, we were able to employ assistants and even provide apprenticeships.
People in our neck of the woods were big meat eaters, so this was a major part of our success. Some of the innovations were to prepare corned beef on site of far better quality than the commercial product and, because we had a forcer, to create our own sausages. (At which point I must make an admission: Much as I tried, I never managed the wrist twist to make suitable snags!)
Long before they were popular anywhere, our first butcher began to prepare shoulder lamb cushions, stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, pine nuts and whatever else he thought suitable, formed into a cushion shape tied with white cord. They were a great creation! They doubled the value of the product and ‘walked out the door’ as fast as he could make them.
Oh, and dinner packs. Eat your heart out at this! A $50 dinner pack at the time consisted of 2kg rump or sirloin, a leg of lamb, 2kg beef or pork sausages, a no. 18 frozen chook, 1kg ham steaks, 4kg bag of spuds and 2kg each of carrots and onions.
Among all the meat though, there were some good times had and a couple of humorous occasions worth mentioning.
There were two sisters, young mums, both possessed fabulous figures. They would shop together, frequently wearing rather skimpy tops and short shorts. I heard them chatting and chuckling one day as one of them bent over the meat cabinet, with the butcher perving through the window. The other sister giggled, saying, “I can see both his hands, but he’s still lifting the cutting table!”
On another occasion, I heard a shriek followed by hysterical laughter. As I came around the end of an aisle, two senior women were doubled over, laughing at the young apprentice, a cow’s tongue protruding from his mouth. Hanging around his neck was a sign that read, “And can breathe through my ears!”
It was a great life, with great people. Hard work, sure, but gratifying, especially managing to lift the store’s turnover by a factor of 50, and with half our custom now coming from out of town.