Master butcher John Stenton chews the fat with Jo Reynolds.
Where are you from originally?
South Shields, Tyne and Wear.
How long have you been here?
I came to London over 40 years ago and have lived in Hammersmith ever since.
What brought you here?
There wasn’t any work at home so I got on a coach and came to London. I’ve worked every day since.
Why butchery? Why here?
I first worked as a butcher in Shepherd’s Bush Market and when this shop became vacant, my wife and I decided to start up on our own. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then I’ve trained many butchers but I couldn’t do it without my family. My children, Paul, Simon, Adam and Rebecca have all worked here at times over the years. I have my lovely wife Lena to thank for her continuing help and support which has meant we are still here today. Now it’s Perry and me. Perry Tully, my shop manager, has been with us over 10 years and is an outstanding butcher. We consider him family and he is the future of the shop.
Why has Stenton Family Butchers lasted?
There isn’t another Butchers shop like us. I have customers that have been coming here since the first week we opened. As Brackenbury Village has changed over the years we see couples turn into families, parents turn into grandparents. My wife always knits something for any newborns in the area. We love this community and are lucky to be a part of it. We support it and it supports us.
What draws people to your shop?
We try to offer a unique blend of quality meat and friendly service, which you just won’t get from a supermarket. We have customers who travel for hours from outside London to visit us. As well as seasonal variety, we try to offer something new each week, say for Thanksgiving this week, or Halloween, or summer BBQs. And we do competitions and tastings and book signings. The list goes on…
What’s your favourite meat and cut?
Pork. One of our specialities is a large peppered pork chop with the belly part left on that can weigh in at 1kg. Now, that’s what I call a Man Chop.
Do you have pets?
We have a chocolate lab called Taz and a black lab called Rio. We have always had Labradors. Brackenbury Village is a very dog friendly area and our customers are welcome to come in for bones, for stock as well as for their dogs; all we ask is a small donation to charity.
What charities do you support?
We love to raise money for our local schools. As well as encouraging donations with the bones, we always have fresh herbs. Today we have bags of cooking apples from our friends John and Caroline in Mapperton, Dorset. Our main fundraising comes from running in the Great North Run which my wife and I have done for 15 years now. We raise funds for Macmillian cancer research, the Cardiac Unit at Harefield hospital and Riding for the Disabled at Wormwood Scrubs, all very close to our hearts and after everything we’ve been through, it’s great to be able to give back if only in a small way. Our customers are always so generous and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all.
You’re a chatty man. Do you talk in your sleep?
Hopefully not. Ask my lovely wife.
Do you speak many languages?
A bit of Japanese from my martial arts training and I’m trying to learn French because nearly half our customers are French. We’ve always done lots of traditional French cuts of meat and we recently had a French Week to celebrate this. I need to know the French because there isn’t an English translation for a particular cut of meat.
Do you still do martial arts?
No. I do ball room dancing with my wife.
Your reputation has attracted some famous chefs.
Any particular favourites?
You have to remember that we have been here for a long time and over the years I have worked with many well-known food producers, writers, critics and chefs. Among my favourites are Allegra McAvedy, Aldo Zilli, Gregg Wallce, Eric Deblonde and Rose Prince. Most recently I worked with Jamie Oliver on his new project, ‘Save With Jamie’.
You have a lot of famous customers.
Can you name names?
All of our customers are famous to us.
After your heart attack, were you aware of the wave of sympathy and concern that ran through the village?
It was amazing. I received over a hundred get-well cards and my customers still check up on me. It’s touching and makes coming to work every day even more rewarding. I had a triple bypass but you’ve got to keep smiling. My wife used to call me “Stent”. Now she calls me “Two Stents”.
How do you relax?
I love fishing – sea casting, fly-fishing, anywhere. I’ve even fished in Montana, in the river from that film, like Brad Pitt in the river that runs through it.
You celebrated the 30th anniversary of your business this year. What do you want to pass on?
We celebrated surviving. Farmers markets have become more popular because farmers used to sell to butchers who sadly are no longer there. I want people to know they can come to my shop and receive more than just great meat. They’ll get great service from exceptionally skilled butchers in a friendly and welcoming environment. I am only still here because of the ongoing support of my family and my customers.
Thank you, John. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.
Read more about John at http://www.brackenbury-village.co.uk