Jack Cook, Master Butcher, runs Walter Rose & Son, recently Britain’s Butcher Shop of the Year. Jack tells us about his family history, the importance of provenance, and shares his tips for cooking over fire.
Walter Rose & Son is a true icon within the meat industry. Founded in 1847, it has become a multi-award-winning retail and catering butcher. It’s a family business that genuinely cares about the quality of its meat and the personal service it offers.
The Walter Rose online shop offers nationwide delivery of its award winning meat, game, fish, BBQ packs, picnic boxes, cheese, burger kits and Sunday Roasts.
Jack has kindly given TOG customers 10% off all online orders with code: TOG10.
Tell us about the history of your family business?
My brother, Charlie, and I are the 4th generation to run our family business. It was my Great Grandfather Wilfred or ‘Bob’ (as he was known) who first learnt the trade of butchery. He worked as an apprentice butcher in Marlborough, before setting up on his own in our now home town of Devizes. He set up ‘Cook and Wishart’ Butchers and ran a very successful butchers shop for a number of decades with his son (my Grandpa Cliff). They even had a little help from his grandchildren, Jane (my aunt), Stephen (my dad) and Andrew (my uncle). My Dad decided that even though he wanted to work in the trade, he didn’t want to work for the family business. He moved to London where he studied the trade “properly” at Smithfield College before working a number of years on the world famous Smithfield Market and in wholesale.
When Dad was 21, the other butchers shop in Devizes, ‘Walter Rose and Son’, came up on the market. He snapped it up for £7,000 and the rest, as they say, is history. Whereas Cooks butchers relied solely on retail, Dad saw that with the arrival of supermarkets it would be vital for him to begin supplying the commercial kitchens, schools, pubs, restaurants and hotels. This proved to be very successful and in 2000 he bought and merged WR Cook and Son with Walter Rose. Since then the business has grown and grown. In recent years we have established ourselves not only as one of the finest catering butchers in the UK, but we were officially judged to be the best butchers shop in all of Britain in 2016.
What makes Walter Rose & Son different?
My dad was one of the first butchers to cut out the livestock market and work directly with the best farmers he could find, and we’ve built on his ethos. Our suppliers are local farmers – they are the same families we have been buying from for generations. These farmers share our passion for producing consistently outstanding produce through high welfare farming. We all share the same moral values about animal welfare and sustainability (even before it was trendy to do so). Above all else we always want the customer to be blown away by how good the product is. We aren’t a little butchers shop, but we certainly aren’t a big corporate firm. You can always phone up and speak to Charlie or myself; we will bend over backwards for any customer. You will always get a product which is second to none along with a personal service. People always tell us that we are daft for not having a call centre, or taking a PA. But if we did that then we would lose the personal touch and lose the relationships we have with our chefs and customers.
Who are your customers?
We supply everyone from local families and pubs, Michelin star restaurants, right up to Harrods and Selfridges. We supply chefs like Glynn Purnell, Ben Tish, Tom Kerridge and Hywel Jones, as well as Saturday Kitchen, Masterchef and Great British Menu. A number of A-list celebrities buy their meat from us personally and we also supply a number of the world’s most impressive Super-yachts around the world.
How has your business adapted over the last year?
The day we went into lockdown last year we lost 97% of our trade overnight and had to furlough 75% of our staff. We had almost half a million pounds worth of meat in our chillers which had originally been destined for commercial kitchens. It really was squeaky bum time! Literally within hours of going into lockdown we had completely turned the business on its head. We set up an online shop and pushed retail and online sales to anyone we could. Thankfully, it worked. On a skeleton staff we managed to process over 200 internet orders per day and cater for over 250 customers walking into our shop daily. Although the majority of our overheads were still extortionate, we managed to keep losses to a minimum throughout the lockdowns but it still cost us millions in lost revenue. On the plus side, our retail trade and online sales have never been better. We are confident that when things go back to some sort of normal, we will have taken 2 steps forward after 1 big step back. I think we’ll be busier than ever when we come out if this.
BBQ season is upon us – what tips do you have for somebody interested in cooking over fire at home?
Rule number 1 when cooking over fire is to make sure you use the best charcoal or wood that you can get your hands on. I recommend Whittle and Flame charcoal. It is proper wood which offers fantastic flavours from whatever type of tree it came from, and there are no chemicals to interfere with the taste.
Regarding the meat, ALWAYS buy from a butcher who you trust. Avoid supermarket meat like the plague and don’t be scared to ask your butcher for their advice. My team and I all love to cook which means that we have a vast knowledge of what cuts lend themselves to cooking over fire. We are always happy to offer a few ideas or suggestions and like to encourage people to try something new.
What are your plans for the future?
Firstly, we want to get out of the other side of this pandemic in one piece. We have taken this time to step back briefly and assess the business processes so that we can grow again once we all get back to normal. We are currently streamlining so we operate in a more economical way but without having a negative impact on the quality of goods or service that we offer. We’ve also developed a really great training programme that is appealing to youngsters who want to learn the trade, and also our customers who want to learn more about preparing meat.
Last February we were two weeks away from investing £3 million on a major shop refurbishment. So we plan on picking things up again on that front once we have the confidence to; hopefully in the not too distant future. We honestly believe that the shop refurb will turn us into the best butchers shop in the world – it’s going to be that good. We’re even going to have a Spirit Room where people can come and have a drink while they’re waiting for their meat. It’s going to be amazing.