This lawyer turned butcher is passionate about the 100% certified free-range, grass-fed and ethically reared meat she sources from farmers she gets to know and trust.
I actually bought the business, Braeside Butchery from my aunt who had originally had it for six years. I had been practicing law at the time and completely burned myself out, selling hours and unfortunately running out of hours to sell. I remember having dinner with her for my birthday and I remember her saying to me, “you are looking really tired, how about you buy the business and have it for a year, and then at the end of the year you can always sell it and get your money back, but at least you will sleep”. So, she sold me the business on the basis that I could sleep again. So, mine is a really funny start up story. It is strange because up until that point, I really didn’t have any interest in food or meat, and I really didn’t know much about all the different cuts of meat. So, the first three months was really about getting to grips with meat, and since then, it has been about learning about business. I have now been in business for thirteen years.
The culture I have in my shop is very much one of we sit down as equals and we talk about our problems – it is perhaps a very female approach to finding out if there are problems and then trying to make them right.
Today, the business is radically different, just from an employment perspective. When I bought the business from my aunt, there were just seven people who worked in the shop, and today there are now twenty two people working here. In terms of what we do, that is very different too. The retail element has always stayed, but the truth is that today the customer is getting a better experience because I am now able to tell them where the meat comes from, and for me that is really important. I need to be able to look customers in the eye and say that this piece of meat has come from this farm, and this is how well it has been treated. Provenance is a really big part of the company philosophy. Eight years ago, after I did a trip to the UK, I came back and wanted to connect with the people that were growing the beef and the lamb and the pigs, and at the time I was using wholesalers. So, when I started out asking questions of my wholesalers to find out who were the farmers producing my meat, they were very dismissive and suggested that I didn’t really need to know such information, that it shouldn’t be important to me. As a result, I went out and I found farmers to supply my meat and today, I still do. I try to keep my supply chain as close as possible, but unfortunately produce such as beef for example, the best beef does not come from the area close to Johannesburg, it is found in other areas around the country. The same can be said of the famous Karoo lamb, which has been a pet project of mine. For the past two years, I have actively promoted and sold this wonderful lamb, partnering with local farmers in the Karoo. It is what should be happening more in the industry. Everyone wants to know who the farmer is that produced the meat they are eating.
"Provenance is a really big part of the company philosophy."
The biggest ongoing challenge in the business is that of staff. Interestingly enough, it is easier to break down the barrier as a female in business when you are communicating from one business owner to another, but it is a lot more difficult with staff. I do take a very different philosophy with my staff now. A lot of people would say “hey, we are a team, we are a family”, but that is really just nice talk for someone being too soft, or worse still, saying the words but doing something else entirely different behind the scenes. So for me, the biggest challenge has been the approach taken to communicate that I really do care about my staff, and I want to see them built up to be the best they can be at what they do. Every person that I have ever employed, whether they have started either as a cleaner or as a basic trimmer, I have taught them how to do their job better. However, maybe I have done too good a job because unfortunately my staff get poached away from me on a regular basis because there is such a skills shortage in the industry. Amongst the staff that I do have, I would say around 70%, are with me for a long time but not forever. The culture I have in my shop is very much one of we sit down as equals and we talk about our problems – it is perhaps a very female approach to finding out if there are problems and then trying to make them right. This is particularly challenging as most of my staff are male and there is not traditionally a culture of sitting down with females and discussing problems. However, I believe that every person has the ability to grow and develop as a result of such an approach.
In terms of what gives me the most satisfaction as an entrepreneur each day, I absolutely love the reaffirmation I get from my customers, whether it is from the chefs who buy from me, or the people who come into my store. Likewise, the farmers who are finally able to have their story told and to be appreciated for what they do, I love that. That personal connection is really important to me.
The highlight of my entrepreneurial journey came the other evening when I was invited to the Sunday Times Cookbook Awards, and it is the first time in a long time that I realized I have made a difference. There were a lot of very well known people at the event who knew who I was and made a point of coming to say hello, thanking me for my work, and wanting to know more about the farmers I work with, the work that they do, and the meat they produce. It made me realize that I am making a difference.
In the future, I am hoping to do is set up a small deboning plant which will also serve as a training school in Johannesburg and then to do an upgrade on my store. Lots of people are approaching me wanting to open up Braeside Butchery meat-markets and shops elsewhere in the country, but I am not too sure about that at this time.
Why LoA loves it....
Braeside is a great entrepreneurial success story with inspirational leadership and world-class products and approaches to business. This is one woman entrepreneur making a difference in both her industry sector, and in the lives of those who work for her and buy her products. --- Melanie