Member Feature - R J Hirst

Baker and Butcher Sadie and Russell Hirst spoke to Select Lincolnshire about their experience and passion working in the food sector in Lincolnshire.

Who are you and what do you do? I am Sadie Hirst, wife of Russell Hirst. I’m the baker and Russell is the Butcher. Together we own a small traditional butchers shop in the picturesque village of Woodhall Spa.

Tell us about your background and how you came to the role you are in? Russell has been a butcher for over 35 years. Prior to buying his own shop 14 years ago, he managed several butcher’s shops locally. He has always been passionate about making and preserving Lincolnshire dishes and traditional butchery skills. I came into the business when I married him! Prior to that I worked in local media, radio and press

Tell us about your team. We are a close team of four, Sharon - our full time sales assistant has been with us since the beginning and Simon our part time sales assistant joined us three years ago. Then there’s Russell and myself. We are a Micro business, and all of us are obsessed “foodies” and passionate about what we do. We all share one common aim and that is to give our customers exceptional produce and service.

What are your main products? Our Lincolnshire Heritage Range, Lincolnshire Sausages, Sausage Rolls, Hand Raised Pork Pies, Hand Raised Pork and Red Onion Marmalade Pies, Stuffed Chine, Haslet, Dry Roasted Ham, Barbecue Dishes, meat joints, cuts and dishes prepared to your requirements.

What would you say is special about your services and products? Russell was fortunate to have trained under the late Jack Huddleston (owner of Spratt’s Butchers in Horncastle). Russell is one of the few butchers left in the county who was taught traditional Lincolnshire butchery and we wanted our customers to benefit from all of those years of skills and knowledge. “If a customer has a special request for a particular recipe or joint of meat, Russell will prepare it in front of you, so you can feel confident in what you are buying.”

I’m proud to say that we haven’t compromised our standards at all over the years. We have developed our range of Lincolnshire specialities at a pace we can manage and we have resisted the temptation to expand. This is because we would never allow our products to be made by anyone other than ourselves, so we can ensure the quality is consistently excellent. We strive to offer our customers food they love to eat, with the hope of getting them to return for more. Our relationships are based on mutual trust and respect, and in return we have happy loyal customers that stay with us for year after year.

What does Lincolnshire mean to you? Lincolnshire is home for both of us. I am from Woodhall Spa and Russell is from Horncastle. We absolutely love and are proud of our county, and we are honoured to wave the food flag for Lincolnshire.

What drives you? The desire to be the best at what we do and make our customers happy. There is no getting around the fact that the job is hard work. It all takes times as we make everything from scratch. Getting up at 5am for a very long day, often in sub-zero temperatures takes hard work, determination and commitment. You have to love what you do in order to have the motivation to do it. The awards that we have won over the years have been very much appreciated and wonderful recognition for what we do, but the main driver for both of us is when a customer tells us how much they enjoy and value what we do. We even have a gentleman and his family travel all the way from Melton Mowbray to buy my pork pies. He tells me it’s worth the journey as they’re ‘the best’ they’ve ever had.

Do you engage with any groups in the community? We use local tradespeople and businesses wherever possible. I recently worked with young people from The Lion Theatre in Horncastle and Banovallum School for the Emerge Festival, which was inspired by the work of Shakespeare. I held a series of workshops at Banovallum School, where we made Elizabethan Filo Purses which was tremendous fun and hugely rewarding. I write for a number of local publications and where possible promote fellow Select Lincolnshire producers and events taking place locally. This includes The Cottage Museum, 1940s weekend and Jubilee Park. I visit many community organisations with my talk “Off the Beeton Track”, which is a great way to share my passion for our local food heritage. We also support many local groups with raffle prizes and help to promote their events and fundraisers.

What has been the hardest thing to overcome about what you do? The hardest challenge we have faced in the past has been recruiting people with the right skills, knowledge and attitude. We are very fortunate to have Sharon and Simon as part of our team, they are integral to the success of our business and we are grateful for their dedication.

What do you enjoy most day to day? The interaction with our customers and getting positive immediate feedback on how much they enjoy our food.

How does it feel to be part of Lincolnshire's wide and varied food and drink sector? Privileged! This is such an exciting time and county to be working as a food producer and retailer. I’m sure history with look back at this as being a time of the resurgence of quality local food. Select Lincolnshire should be proud of the part they play in that. The development of a strong, powerful, desirable brand for food, drink, farming and hospitality businesses in the county.

Who is/are your food champions? Marguerite Patten was a legend, the Ministry of Food radio voice during the Second World War, offering advice on how best to use your rations. I took part in the #Marguerite100 “cookalong” on Twitter a while ago. This was an online foodie event inviting you to make and post a picture of your favourite Marguerite dish. Our family’s favourite dish is Steak Elizabetta, which we always have on Christmas Eve. I wrote about this and posted a photo online, I was absolutely thrilled to be sent a signed copy of Maguerites books as a thank you for taking part. As a cookbook collector, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Tell us which local producers do you use and why? We use local producers, businesses and tradespeople whenever we can. Select Lincolnshire members and local artisan producers we work with are – Fairburns Eggs, Ownsworth Rapeseed Oil, Pocklingtons Bakery, Curtis, Saints and Sinners Preserves, Grantham Gingerbread, Apidae Honey and many more. The reason why, is that we offer them a sales platform in our shop and they offer our customers a choice of top quality artisan products that complements the food Russell and I produce.

What is perfection in what you do? We always strive in perfection in what we do, both Russell and I have very high standards and are our own worst critics, that’s why it is so important that it is only us that produces our food and we don’t lose control of that. Perfection is seeing a batch of our freshly made Lincolnshire Sausages, or one of my hand raised pork pies out of the oven or have a customer coming in to tell us how much they love our food.

On an international platform where does Lincolnshire sit? Lincolnshire has grown and grown in profile in recent years, Select Lincolnshire, Visit Lincoln and the Chamber of Commerce have been instrumental in this. International expos and PR initiatives generate much interest, increase business and footfall to the county. Projects such as the huge investment in Lincoln Castle, The Magna Carta Visitor Centre, The Barons Trail, The Knights Trail, The Imps performance of late, Woodhall Spa 1940s festival, Lincoln Cathedral, Market Rasen Racecourse, The Three Lancs….. The list goes on and on of events that are strategically and cumulatively putting Lincolnshire more and more on an international stage.

What would you say to other Select Lincolnshire members? Work hard, be clear in your vision, don’t compromise your quality, know your customers, please your customers, be honest, be reliable, be consistent, treat people respectfully. Be proud to work and live in Lincolnshire and use the advice, support and network opportunities that Select Lincolnshire can offer you. Keep your cool and a sense of humour!

What are your plans? We plan to continue doing what we do well. Serving and making great food for our customers, developing, testing and introducing new seasonal dishes, serving our community and looking after our team. I am also launching a new talk “Much Ado about Food”, which looks at the food of Shakespeare’s England in the Elizabethan and Early Stuart period. You heard it here first folks!

What is your ultimate goal? Our ultimate goal is to be able to continue to provide our customers with the best meat, the best service, to work well as part of our dedicated team and serve our community. To build on what we have achieved already, continue to improve, develop, evolve and learn all the time.

What are the challenges in creating your products? Our biggest challenge is meeting the demand. It all goes pretty quickly, which is great, but sometimes we need more hours in a day!

Have you any tips for using your products? Russell is always happy to offer cooking tips and advice for our customers. He is especially good with helping and guiding our younger customers. We also have lots of recipes on our website that offer lots of different ideas and tips.

What’s your favourite food fantasy/recipe and why? I’d love to be transported back to the Tudor times to the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century. Oh to have a time machine and be a guest at the feast and banquet of the Christening of Edward the VI at Hampton Court Palace. I would sneak into the kitchens and stores to see how it all worked.

How have you channelled your food passion within your business and personally? I write a monthly food column for The Target which has been going for four years. This is printed in The Lincolnshire Echo and Retford Times. I also create a recipe and column for Good Taste magazine as well as Wolds Scene and Lincs Scene, which is a six-weekly magazine covering thousands of homes around Lincolnshire. I have been on BBC Radio Lincolnshire last as a guest on Lincolnshire Kitchen with Amy Claridge. I also recently attended the Leeds Symposium on Food History for the second time, and for the last couple of years, I’ve been invited to community groups such as WI’s with my talk “Off the Beeton Track”, which explores cookery books as a unique genre of literature and looks at antiquarian cookbooks from the past. I’m a volunteer for Heritage Lincolnshire with their new 3 year Layers of History project which is very exciting. I’m also a member of Horncastle History and Heritage Society so, there is never really a dull moment. It’s a joke in our household that I’m either making, writing, eating or speaking about food.

How do you source ingredients/components of your products? We had a clear vision from the outset that wherever possible we wanted to work with local suppliers. We all have to support each other and we are pleased that we have worked with many of these local businesses since the day we opened. Select Lincolnshire helped consolidate this aim and winning awards that recognises our commitment to trading locally has given us the confidence to know that we are on the right path.

What has been your greatest moment in your business so far? Theresa May, the then Home Secretary visited our shop as the start of the 2015 General Election Campaign. Mrs May bought a couple of pounds of our award winning sausages and several days later we received a message saying that she thought they were the best sausages she had ever tasted! Since then, we were invited to the Houses of Parliament in September 2016 by our MP Victoria Atkins. We took a hamper of our produce down to the Prime Minister in Westminster. We were given a behind the scenes tour of both houses, witnessed the speaker’s procession and attended Prime Ministers Question Time. The whole adventure was rounded off several weeks later when we received a personal letter from the Prime Minister, thanking us for our hamper and how much she enjoyed her visit to Woodhall Spa and our Lincolnshire Sausages!!

What is your USP? Our USP is the fact the Russell and I have complete control over the food we produce for our customers. We make everything by hand from scratch. Our customers have confidence in our quality as they know we have made, prepared and baked their food for them. We use historic recipes and time honoured methods of making Lincolnshire dishes. This includes our multi award winning sausages, which Russell makes by hand every day on the machine fondly known as “The Rocket”!

Tell us something quirky about yourselves? Russell is a very talented guitarist and played with a band a few years back called ‘Star me Kitten’ and I used to work with Jeremy Kyle at a radio station in Somerset!