Another satisfied customer...

THERE'S a queue snaking outside Canham butchers most weekends, but the shop hasn't always been as popular - 10 years ago, owner Paul Canham doubted whether the business would last much longer

until a foray into pies, pasties and sandwiches proved the shop's salvation.

A Londoner who spent the early part of his career as a buyer for a number of big meat groups at Smithfields Market, Canham bought the business 21 years ago after his first store in the city - next to Brighton station - didn't prove the success he'd hoped. His current shop, in Church Road, Hove, wasn't doing well either, but since then it's built up a reputation that has helped to see off at least half a dozen butchers which had dotted one of the city's main shopping streets. In the mid-1990s, Canham sought inspiration from Bridport pie supplier David Grainger, where he met his wife, Donna.

She brought her expertise and knowledge of food production rules and regulations from the West Country, teaching Canham's staff how to produce a wide range of pies. Pie sales now make up one-third of the business and batches are made fresh each day, frozen and then baked-off as needed.

Organic not always best

The combination of primary cuts and value-added products means that there is no wastage; leftovers and trimmings go into the pies and pasties which, by dint of their quality fillings, are also hugely popular. "We might not make the biggest profits - but I'd rather work this way," explains Canham.

The store's main unique selling point is quality, he says, insisting that he only sells prime Angus Scotch beef; there is only one grade of meat across the product range. He hangs much of the meat, including braising steak for a minimum of 14 days and rump steak for a month. "We always have rolled sirloin in the window," he says proudly.

Everything is free-range at the store, as Canham is sceptical about the quality of some organic products: "A lot of farmers aren't expert at raising organic animals," he says. "In fact, some of the worst beef I've ever tasted has been organic. My aim is to be the best," he adds. "We try to be as competitive as we can and I think that we're comparable to the quality of Marks & Spencer - although we offer a better service."

Canham makes the trip to Smithfield once a week to source meat while the rest comes from Brighton Meat Market in Hollingdean, and bacon comes from specialist farm Knight Provisions in Shropshire. It seems that a good balance has now been achieved, as at least 90% of his trade are regular customers.

Some come in each Saturday and stock up for the week, while others pop in just for a piece of sirloin. And the changing demographic in the area, as well as an interest in good food, provenance and cooking, means that many customers are fairly young.

"We've never had so many younger people as we get now," he says. "Lots of them come in with recipes that they need ingredients for... it gets particularly busy at Christmas and Easter when they want something special." He adds: "I probably sell more fillet steak than anyone on the South coast."

Taking on the chains

This new generation of young, urban 'foodies' would also appreciate the store's retro feel. Many of its features date back to 1905 and there are still some Victorian brown tiles covering the walls. However, Canham spurns the traditional white butchers' overalls and is more likely to be found in polo shirt, shorts and an apron.

Canham is a third generation butcher, and his 80 year-old father Frank still works part-time in the store. The proof that he's still as passionate about the business as ever is illustrated every Tuesday, when he commutes from Lyme Regis - a journey of more than two hours. Mind you, his family is waiting for him there on a Saturday afternoon, and he does live in a 10-acre mansion.

During the week, he stays with his father in Brighton. "I love what I do," he beams. Even two substantial Tesco stores opening at either end of the street in the past couple of years hasn't dampened his enthusiasm. They did hit trade for a while, but he is confident that he's clawed back all the business. "We've had a record year," he says. "Easter sales were 10% up on last year, so I'm more than happy."

Shop name: Canhams

Location: Church Road, Hove, East Sussex

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 6 am-5.30 pm

Number of staff: Six

Popular cuts: Sirlion, ribs of beef.

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