Want a butcher? Why don’t you pay for it?

Picasso’s – West Hampstead’s short-lived and misnamed pizzeria – is rumoured to be becoming another pizzeria. If true, probably a bad idea.

Whenever a retail or restaurant unit becomes available, the clamour begins as everyone says what they’d like to see move in. No-one ever says “West Hampstead really needs another pizza place” but without fail, hordes will ask why we can’t have a butcher. Clearly, walking to Waitrose, which has a very good butcher’s counter, or waiting until Saturday for the (admittedly expensive) farmers’ market stalls, isn’t an option for these people.

I would love a butcher to open here, but I’m also realistic about its chances of survival. It is a pretty hard business to run these days: competition from the supermarkets, the requirement for fresh stock and sizeable and expensive-to-run refrigeration space and the fact that, for all the baying of West Hampstead would-be customers, a lot of people still baulk at the idea of paying indepdendent-retailer prices for their meat.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, which has premises on Rosslyn Hill, was looking to move to West Hampstead a couple of years ago, but then pulled out quite late in the day. It wouldn’t say why, but one has to assume that the deal didn’t make financial sense. No great surprise.

Where do you buy most of your meat?

I’d happily buy from a local butcher, but would I buy into a local butcher? Would I invest in it as a business? No. I don’t believe there are enough people locally who would shop there regularly enough to make it a viable operation. Sure, it would be popular on Saturdays, and if it was smart enough to operate like a traiteur and stay open until 8pm, then it might do well with the commuters, but sadly I don’t think that would be enough to keep it going long term.

Want to prove me wrong?

I came across this article the other day, which sums this up rather neatly.

The narrative would usually go that big supermarkets are destroying the variety we all apparently love in our local high street, with many independent retailers going to the wall as a result. It always struck me as odd that if so many people supported local retailers, how they could be in such financial strife. There was clearly a disconnect between the numbers supporting them verbally and those supporting them financially.

Exactly. Enter crowdfunding – the capital-raising tool du jour, beloved of everyone from Amanda Palmer to Ubuntu. The idea is simple, a business venture asks the general public for money. If it reaches the target then it can proceed with its idea. If not enough people pledge money, then nothing happens and no-one’s any the worse off.

Community Sourced Capital, based in Seattle, is seeing whether this idea could work to help local retailers; although there’s a twist – these are interest-free loans rather than donations.

[It] asks people to lend money in $50 chunks, up to a maximum of $250 per project, with each project able to borrow up to $50,000. These funds are then made available to borrowers at zero interest, with repayments made according to income levels.

Once members have had their loan repaid, they can either withdraw their funds, or invest them into another project. The founders of CSC want it to be more akin to lending money between friends rather than the more traditional commercial model, and as such each loan is simple and un-complicated.

The notion is that is an interest-free leg up for an existing local business, rather than a considered investment with a return. Does this mean lenders are more willing to take a gamble? Less interested in scrutinising the balance sheet and business plan?

CSC doesn’t say what happens if the business goes bankrupt. With small sums of money at stake for each investor it’s possible that the loan is simply written off.

What do you think? Would you lend someone up to £250 to get a butcher’s off the ground?

  • Interesting idea, particularly if you could “incentivise” investors with some sort of discount on product depending on amount invested perhaps. Personally, my family and I have substantially reduced the amount of meat we eat due to high prices and reduced quality (at least thinking about supermarkets and horses). Another different model is more like Kickstarter where the money raised is in fact in return for product (free) to a certain amount. It is like a guaranteed initial income for the business.

  • Anonymous

    I'd absolutely lend £250 for a top notch butcher. I'd chalk it up to investing in our area – bringing in better services which should benefit house prices etc

    That said, lots of new housing is planned for the area which should mean more people which should make it easier for service providers to economically rationalise investing their own money

    • Only if the people who buy the new housing are living there / renting it out, and if the residents are around during trading hours. Bigger population doesn't always mean bigger local economy.

    • Anonymous

      Of course – however, the demographics of the area definitely moving in the right direction. Personally, i have a feeling there's pent up demand for good quality service offerings in the area (see Mamacita). Build it and they will come…

    • Anonymous

      I would say the demographics of the area are moving in the WRONG direction. West Hampstead's not what it used to be

    • Anonymous

      What did West Hampstead use to be?

    • Anonymous

      When I moved to West Hampstead it had EVEN more charity shops.

      The ALice House used to be O'Malleys which had a pretty good fight every Friday and Saturday.

      The beautiful Victorian terraces were multi-occupancy crumbling wrecks.

      The area was kilburn+ at best.

    • Richard Lander

      Can only agree with above. Moved here in 1982 and it was a total shithole. Food choice was bridge café or jennies burgers.
      By the way we do have an excellent butcher on Cricklewood Lane in bifuclo. Fabulous meat, charming staff and they'll deliver

  • Anonymous

    Maybe its just me but what I would like to see is a store that offers pre-prepared meals that you can take home and cook-up. I find the offering from Sainsburys and Tesco a bit weak in this space. The local butcher can sell fresh cuts of meats but would supplement their business by having prepared / seasoned meals in quantities suitable for one, two, three or even four people.

    Instead of having them in plastic trays, they’re pre-wrapped in foil and ready to be dropped into the oven (think shish kebabs where you can also grab a single serving of rice, or pre-prepared burgers that you can also grab a bun and toppings).

    Price point would be above the local grocery store but well below the restaurants.

    If I had an option like that, I would definitely cook more on those nights where I come home late.

  • Benjamin Olins

    100% would invest in and use a local butcher

  • Anonymous

    Me too

  • Anonymous

    Picasso's is strategically placed on WEL to capture the eye of the passing tourist. Unfortunately tourists want pizza.

    • They clearly didn't want Picasso's pizza

  • Anonymous

    Butchers!!!! Yes it would be a success…. The old
    chez mou that then became a coffee place!!! Ideal
    Location and even looks like a butchers!

  • The independent grocers did not provide any variety at all. They all got the same produce from the same cash & carry suppliers, and racked up the prices as far as the market could bear. I remember £1.60 for a small loaf of Hovis being the norm.

    Now I can buy a big loaf for £1.30 from Tesco Metro or Sainsburys Local, and there is lots of variety. The Fortune Green Tesco Metro is open to midnight and has lots of special offers. It has a free outdoor ATM, rather then the £1.50 charge for use of a mini-ATM indoors. No minimum charge, penalty or griping if I am short of cash and need to use a card. Fresh veg and fruit and lot of variety.

    A Nisa grocer opened in Fortune Green opposite the Nautilus Fish and Chips – it lasted less than 3 months. The reason is simple: the independent grocers are dying out because it is an outdated business model offering no variety and very inefficient – in short, they are rubbish.

    Who is going to queue up in a butchers to get your meat – and then go to a seperate store to get fruit and veg, and then go to a separate store to buy bread and staples and other houshold goods?


    • Think there’s a distinction between the franchise mini-marts such as Nisa, Londis or Best One, and what people generally mean when they say “independents”, which is family-run single shops or small multiples.

      You will find people locally who disagree about the lack of variety – Best One (now Sainsburys) had some ardent fans who bemoan the loss of partiuclar soft drinks or cleaning products that aren’t economical for the chains to stock or with whom they have no supplier relationship.

      As for fresh fruit and veg, neither the WEL Tesco or Sainsbury’s have much variety or great quality. George’s on Mill Lane is by far the best option here, or the farmers market if you can hold on for a week.

      No doubt that the supermarkets are popular because they are convenient and they stock better quality ingredients overall – especially meat – and at more competitive prices than the mini-marts. However, I think plenty of people are still willing to go to multiple shops to buy different products if the quality is good, the price is acceptable and it’s not actively INconvenient.

      Yes, the market decides to some extent, but high rents don’t give customers the chance to vote with their wallets because the smaller operators can’t afford to set up in the first place and take the risk. If Tesco opens a store and then decides to close it after two years, there’ll barely be a raised eyebrow in a board meeting.

  • Anonymous

    I buy loads of meat online for eastlondonsteakcompany.co.uk but would really love to go into a shop and look at the meat talk about the cuts.

    Happy to invest in a local butcher provided it is a 'butcher' not like the ones in kilburn where they just do supermarket cuts and no variety.

  • I hope you’ll forgive the teensy sales pitch but I think it might be of interest to those who’ve commented: I’ve started an online shop and delivery service – http://www.hubbub.co.uk – to make it easy for people to buy from their local independent shops when they can’t get to them in person. We deliver from The Hampstead Butcher, along with lots of other brilliant indies. The idea is to make it easy for people to do their weekly shop with independent shops and to help those shops compete with the supermarkets. You order online and get everything delivered in one go – think Ocado for independent shops. Feel free to get in touch with me (or The Hampstead Butcher) for more info ku.oc1516572138.bubb1516572138uh@ol1516572138leh1516572138 or check out hubbub.co.uk. Thank you!