Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The mates who unexpectedly found themselves owning the only butcher shop left in town

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Wal Stranger and Max Benaud never planned to own a butcher shop.

Growing up on a property at Canowindra, in central-west New South Wales, Wal moved away for several years working on feedlots, stations and as a meat export trader in Sydney.

It was there that he met fellow trader Max Benaud who also just happened to be a trained butcher.

As they sold Australian meat around the world from a Sydney office they were always talking about ways they could use their skills to create a more local supply chain.

Wal grew up on his family farm at Canowindra and always knew he’d end up back there.(ABC Central West: Tim Fookes)

Wal said he had always wanted to move back to the family farm and managed to convince Max to move to the country.

“There was no pressure to take on the family business but I knew early on that’s where my passion was,” Wal said.

Wal also saw it was a chance for the friends to realise their paddock-to-plate dream, even if Max initially needed a bit of persuasion.

“It took about two years to convince Max to come out to Canowindra to have a go,” he said.

“As we’ve both got a passion for meat procurement and livestock, we thought we’d have a crack at doing the whole supply chain.”

Two men wearing butchers outfits lookg at sheep on a farm

Wal and Max source their meat from the Strangers’ property and other farms in the local area.(ABC Central West: Hugh Hogan)

Becoming butchers

The pair was never set on running a butcher but when the opportunity came up to buy the only butcher shop in Canowindra they jumped at it.

“We initially thought we’d use the butcher shop to butcher lambs and the owner mentioned the shop was for sale,” Max said.

“A month later we won the auction and Wal and I were like, ‘Oh my God, we now own a butcher!’

“Within a couple of months I’d packed up my corporate life in Sydney and moved out.”

The pair renovated the shop on the town’s main street and opened for business last year.

Their meat is nearly all from local farms and they use the abattoir at nearby Cowra.

“We’ve found that people want to know where their meat is coming from including what the animals have been fed,” Max said.

A man cutting a large piece of meat at a butcher shop

Max was initially reluctant to move to Canowindra but has relished the chance to run the butcher shop.(ABC Central West: Hugh Hogan)

The life of a butcher

After buying the butcher shop, Max received news he’d been diagnosed with cancer of his lymphatic system.

The months of chemotherapy limited his ability to work, but the Canowindra community rallied behind him as the shop was unable to open at times.

Now in remission, Max is back to full health and often gets to the butchery at 3am to begin work on preparing the day’s meat for sale.

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“People comment on how early I start but it’s a great time of day to get things done,” he said.

“We have a range of customers coming in, whether they’re the older generation who have the menu they cook each week or the young families looking for quick and easy dinners like a stirfry, shish kebabs or burgers.

“We want to give customers that old-fashioned customer service and answer questions they have.

“At first we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we’re doing it now and backing ourselves.”

Two smiling men wearing butcher outfits standing on an historic street

Max and Wal have a range of customers from young families to the older generations.(ABC Central West: Hugh Hogan)

Demand for butcher meat

Wal said while it was a risk buying a butcher shop, they’d noticed customers were keen to find out where their meat was from.

“The sad reality is more butcher shops are closing than opening, but we saw that as a huge opportunity,” he said.

“We had people telling us we couldn’t do it and what could go wrong but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response we’ve had.”

A close up image of two pieces of meat

Canowindra once had four butcher shops but is now left with one.(ABC Central West: Hugh Hogan)

The pair has recently begun selling lamb at a farmers market in nearby Orange.

Wal said they don’t see themselves in direct competition with the supermarkets.

“We’re not here to capture the whole market and with cost of living being such a big talking point we understand that maybe we’re not always the best option.

“But we do believe a butcher like ours can offer a range of price points from affordable up to more of the high end.”

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