Phillip Mitchell had always had an interest in cooking thanks to generations of food-lovers in his family, but it wasn’t until David Cornell at Rochester Meats encouraged the aimless teenager to apply for an apprenticeship that he had ever considered butchery as a career.
Now at 36, Phillip is a successful business owner with three full time staff. As a first-generation butcher with an entrepreneurial spirit, he has paved his own way to make his business special. Castlecrag Meats has curated a particular brand of old-meets-new, with a strong social media following and special demonstration evenings in the shop. They recently hosted a night for 15 customers to come into the shop – set up like a restaurant – and held a step by step demonstration of how to break down a raw carcass, cooking up samples and serving them with paired wines and beers. And that was just the first one, Phillip says they are working on a new idea now to pair beer, wine and even desserts with their meat products.
While he considers himself a traditional butcher – something he owes to his time in London learning the more traditional style of butchery doing everything by hand – “My greatest influences would have to be David Cornell at Rochester Meats and Neil Larkins Balgowlah Heights Butchery. I spent a lot of time with them, great friends, teaching great business skills, morale, dealing with customers, ways to treat people and how to be a successful business owner and be good at what we do, butchering”.
Phillip also loves to pair cheese with his meats, and so sells cheese in his store as well. “The thing we most love about the butchering industry is that you can recreate yourself and your shop and you have the freedom to develop some incredible flavours using various meat cuts and products that complement the meat”.
A major part of Castlecrag Meat’s success is their online communication, specifically through Facebook and Instagram. A series of videos entitled “Phridays with Phil” garners great engagement from their followers and allows them to convey a sense of quality, knowledge, passion and trust to their customers, and even giving Phil somewhat of a celebrity status in the community!
Castlecrag Meats also promotes the importance of having a carcass as opposed to packaged meat. Carcass has a longer shelf life (given you debone it within 2-3 days) and allows them to age the whole carcass and meat (up to four weeks), which gives a longer shelf life for the counter display and for the customers in their fridge (guarantee the meat for another 4-5 days for the customer).
“Our customers love seeing video’s we put up on Instagram of how I create cuts and what was needed to create the perfect slice of meat. They have become very popular and given me a somewhat of a celebrity status within my community. Our customers were the ones that asked us to do them. They translate my passion to our customers and it’s an entertaining way to showcase my skillset”.
“It also very important for your customers/potential customers to see you have a website – put as much information as possible on your website as people today, don’t want to ask a lot of questions on the phone, they want to be informed before they contact you or come to into your store. It gives them confidence in the business”.
Asked what tips he could give to other owners, Phillip added “Work hard. Stay motivated. Don’t be too scared to fail – it’s OK if you do. Just take the punt, some things will work out and others don’t. Do something different”.
“Being a member of AMIC means knowing they have my back. Craig (Wright, NSW MRO) is always very encouraging and keeps me up to date with what is going on in the industry – wages, payments, issues and developments”.
By listening to their customers and engaging in a conversation, Phil, his wife who works in the admin side of the business, and the team at Castlecrag Meats have made their shop a local shopping destination, and have paved the way for future success.