Sophie Cumber on launching a butchery during lockdown
What happens when you are about to open a new business and lockdown hits? We spoke to butcher Sophie Cumber about the launch of her new butchery at Bowhouse, the space for artisan food and drink producers in Fife and her hopes for the future.
Sophie grew up on an Oxfordshire livestock farm before studying at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. She then went onto work at London’s Barbecoa butchers and Turner & George Meat Merchants before moving to Bowhouse.
How did the lockdown announcement affect you and your business?
The butchery had literally just got going when we went into lockdown so there was a bit of time not knowing quite how to continue. It could have been shut down because I didn’t have much meat in stock but it seemed a shame not to be offering a service that people needed. I was planning to start up as a predominantly wholesale business, opening up for retail once a month at the Bowhouse market weekends but obviously this idea had to be quickly turned around as sadly all the restaurants went into lockdown.
As I didn’t have a pre-existing customer base I needed to reach people who didn’t know me or my products, and create a way for them to order. So I set up, alongside Bowhouse, on the Open Food Network, which is an online platform connecting people with producers and hubs. It has been very strange trying to build a new customer base without being able to talk to people: a part of my job that has always been really important to me.
What motivated you to take positive action?
I felt I had to get going as I had the space and resources ready to use, and was also lucky to be situated somewhere where it is very easy to work safely (I am in the butchery by myself most of the time). There are so many people who have been working incredibly hard through the pandemic so of course I wanted to keep going and offer what I could produce for people. I hoped that it would help people access the good quality produce that is available in their local area, especially those who have been unable to leave their homes.
What support have you got from other chefs / the hospitality industry?
It has been such a tough time for chefs who still really don’t know what the future of their business looks like, but they definitely seem keen to source locally once they begin trading again. I have had some practical help from furloughed chefs as well, a nice exchange where they get to develop their butchery skills and I get a bit of help.
What are your hopes for your future?
In the short term I soon hope to open the doors to allow customers into the butchery itself and also, as chefs and restaurants begin to navigate re-opening in this tricky time, to start building some wholesale relationships. I hope that longer term people will be more inclined to buy local and seasonal produce, because they now have better access to it. This would genuinely support a better farming system in the UK.
Do you have a message to share with other women in the food industry?
This is a really hard time for the hospitality industry but hopefully we can all work together to build things back up and create better food systems linked more closely with local and sustainable produce.
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