'It’s a strategy that’s beginning to pay off’
2008-05-29 15:34:45 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Terry Whelan, a Dublin-based butcher specialising in South African produceYou get more than meat when you deal with Terry Whelan, a long established butcher on Parnell Street. As a retailer, he interacts with people all day, and philosophy is high on the list of conversation topics. The relationship that a person has with their butcher is hugely important, according to Whelan. Meat is still regarded as the best source of protein and iron for nutrition, and Whelan says that people have long preferred to give their money to the butcher rather than the doctor. He adds: “If you eat well, you stay well.” People do not necessarily want their butcher to be cheap, either: “They want quality. The relationship is one of trust. They know they are getting fresh produce from me.”

Whelan’s customers are traditionally women who shop for families. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” smiles Whelan – but more often these days there are young couples shopping together, and during our interview a Hells Angel who had travelled from Wexford arrived to buy meat “for 30 tonight”. After an initial apprenticeship from the age of 16, Whelan trained in senior meat management at the College of Marketing and Design. “That course was more about the science of meat, but you also learned how to get the most value and the best price from different cuts of meat. I then learned killing at the slaughterhouse, which I think is important for a butcher.” After working for other butchers for some years, Whelan decided to go it on his own. The lease on his current premises on Parnell Street in central Dublin was a risk at the time. “Parnell Street is very busy and vibrant now, but at the time, 10 years ago, it wasn’t as developed and business was mainly local with only some passing trade,” explains Whelan, now a member of the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland. But as the area began to flourish – and inspired after a visit to South Africa – Whelan saw that there was a market in Ireland for different types of meat.

“In South Africa I experienced foods that were not available here,” he says. “I saw that other new communities in Ireland were being catered to with foods from home, but the countries of southern Africa weren’t really represented in the marketplace.” Whelan took a chance and ordered a 40-foot container worth of produce from South Africa. “I haven’t looked back since,” he says. His butcher shop now stocks fresh beef biltong, fresh droëwors, many varieties of boerewors, Ouma rusks and the bestselling Iwisa maize meal – used for making the traditional African porridge dish, pap. Whelan now has extra storage facilities along with his premises at Parnell Street, and there are plans for a site outside of Dublin in the future. Whelan is also proud of an online store that he says is now a very popular way for customers to order. “With a web designer recommended by my accountant, I set up TableMountainFoods.com and all meats are delivered refrigerated by courier,” he says.

“It’s a strategy that’s beginning to pay off.” Whelan is considered an artisan producer; the products stocked by Whelan are featured regularly in food magazines, and his cured hams and pastramis have won gold medals at prestige competitions in the UK. But his main customers are still the locals, with Africans and Indians making up a significant number. “The Indian girls go for the lamb, of course. I try to cater for everyone but I do not do halal as that would mean a whole separate system to keep and store the meat,” says Whelan. “My meat doesn’t travel far; it’s from a farmer called Hegarty at Baltinglass in Wicklow. “This week I have made a special lamb boerewors for the Africa Day celebrations and special hampers for some of the embassies.” Whelan’s advice for anyone starting in business is “to tread very carefully, especially where payments are concerned. I have been stung before but you learn.”

And his own favourite meat dish? “Steak and chips, with eggs.” Would you like to have your business profiled? E-mail news@metroeireann.com

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