UP CLOSE IN HITCHIN: The brilliant Keith Jones - master butcher and master crooner

  Posted: 26.11.20 at 15:32 by LAYTH YOUSIF @HitchinNubNews

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Hitchin Nub News aims to support our community, promoting shops, businesses, charities, clubs and sports groups.

We regularly celebrate the great work many of these businesses and organisations do across our town and community, in a feature called UP CLOSE IN HITCHIN.

For today's UP CLOSE IN HITCHIN here's all-round good guy, the brilliant Keith Jones, our town's master butcher - and, did you know, master crooner.

Hard-working Keith is extremely well-known in our community, but read on to learn more about our talented but modest master butcher.

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Hitchin Nub News: Hi Keith, many thanks for your time, we know you’re a busy bloke, so let’s crack on. You’ve been busy serving our community during both lockdowns this year – how has it been?

Keith Jones: Master butcher. CREDIT: @HitchinNubNews

Keith Jones: Hello Layth, have to say I like what you’re doing with Hitchin Nub News. To answer your question, the second lockdown has been different from the first. The first lockdown was madness. We didn’t know if we were going to get the stock. We didn’t even know whether we were going to be allowed to stay open to start with, as we weren’t part of the big five supermarkets obviously, but we were classed as essential.

So, when people started clearing shelves in supermarkets, we were putting stuff out, and it was going straight away. It was manic. And that continued all that way through until July. From the beginning of March until July it was manic. We had deliveries every day - 70/80 orders a day, sending our vehicles out on the road.

It wasn’t just Hitchin either, it was to Letchworth, Stevenage. Arlesey, Welwyn, Hatfield, Potters Bar. We even went to Barnet. We covered a big area. Believe it or not, Hitchin and north Herts are areas we deliver to each and every day.

But this lockdown has been totally different. Schools have been open and people are still out and about. They’re still shopping, as opposed to being at home waiting for their deliveries. It has been different, but being so close to Christmas we’ve been so busy, as ever.

Hitchin Nub News: We’ve been meaning to interview you for a while, but I hear you’ve a bit of a TV celebrity these days after appearing on ITV Anglia earlier this week…

Keith Jones sells top quality meat. CREDIT: Keith Jones

Keith Jones: [Laughs]. We had a call asking if we’d like to do a piece on businesses working through lockdown. We said yes, that would be lovely. I’m sure they had a large choice of places to go, to but they must have looked on Google and seen our 132 'Five Star' reviews and come to us! It was good…

Hitchin Nub News: I hear you’re a bit of a crooner too. They missed a trick in not asking you to sing a song for them as well, didn’t they…

Keith Jones: I did ask them if I could meet Holly Willoughby! But that didn’t go down too well either. No, I didn’t get a chance to blast out a few songs on ITV unfortunately.

Hitchin Nub News: You’ve got a really loyal customer base. I think what you do is great, as do so many other people. But why do you think that is? Why are you so popular with punters?

Keith Jones: I think it’s do with customer service. The quality of our produce. Our pricing is competitive too. I don’t try and demand a higher mark-up on the products I sell. I’m quite happy with 25 per cent, rather than 50 per cent as some do. It’s got to be about the volume. The specials that I do on our Facebook page.

Make no 'mis-steak' Keith Jones is a top butcher. PICTURE: A selection of the top class steak Keith sells. CREDIT: Keith Jones

We do at least two a week, sometimes we do three, four or five a week and we will hit 3,000 people on every post that I put up on the group.

We do have a big following on that, but with regards to the wider community, I try and help out, with things behind the scenes that I don’t want recognition for in any way.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have a good upbringing and I know how difficult life can be, when you’re trying to survive and provide for a family as well.

With what’s happened this year, with Covid and people being furloughed – with it being so close to Christmas people are struggling – and if I can help as much as I can I will. But I do it quietly behind the scenes, without too much fuss. That’s just the way I am as a person.

Hitchin Nub News: For what it’s worth, good on you mate. I know a lot of people who really admire what you do for so many reasons. Ok, let’s hear more about the bloke behind Keith Jones the butcher. How did you end up in Hitchin?

Keith's sausages are simply the best - not the 'wurst'...CREDIT: Keith Jones

Keith Jones: I’m from Kent originally. Gillingham. But I met my missus on holiday.

Hitchin Nub News: Did you? Tell us more…

Keith Jones: I met my wife Angela in Turkey on holiday. We’ve been married 25 years. We’ve got four children who all went to the Priory. My wife is from Hitchin. From Westmill. I was 21 when I met her. We were kicking a ball around in the swimming pool in Turkey and the ball went over to where she was.

Hitchin Nub News: What happened then? What was the first thing that you said to her?

Keith Jones: Well, I went over and asked her if I could have my ball back…

Hitchin Nub News: [Laughing] Really? I absolutely love that story mate…

Keith Jones: And that was it. We’ve been inseparable every since. We married a year to the day after we met. 25 years later we’re still going strong.

I have to say I wouldn't be where I am without the help of my my wife, and the great team here.

Angela's great, she’s up at 530am with me to work in the shop with me.

We’ve got such a great crew, such a great team. We all give 100 per cent to the customers. And that’s why they keep coming back.

I’ve been a butcher since I was 16. Since I left school. I was with Dewhurst Butchers in Gillingham. I was an assistant manager at 17. I learnt my trade down there. I was a shop manager too. I first worked for a butcher in Hitchin’s market square. I’ve been butchering all my life. Apart from a three month stint as a double glazing salesman.

Hitchin Nub News: How did you get on with that?

Keith Jones: It didn’t go well. We’ll leave that one shall we…I made it as a butcher but I couldn’t sell double-glazing shall we say![laughs]

Hitchin Nub News: It’s great to see you and your business doing so well, it’s fully deserved – but it must have been hard to start it all those years ago. What advice would you give someone starting their own business?

Keith Jones: Do it all yourself and don’t rely on other people. A lot of people, when they start a business, look at the £££ signs before what comes before them. And, the thing is, everyone wants a business where you can sit back and let other people do the work and reap the rewards. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s not like that. What I would say is that if you’re going to start your own business, you’re better off doing it all yourself.

Hitchin Nub News: What makes a good butcher?

Keith Jones: You’ve got to have determination. You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to want to work hard.

Butchery can be taught, but it’s long hours. The pay can be very good once you’re at a decent level. As a butcher you can travel.

It’s an acceptable trade in so many different countries around the world. You can work in New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands – you can go anywhere you like as a butcher and you can work. But, it is a hard trade because of the hours, the early mornings, late nights too sometimes. When it comes to Christmas you’re working every hour under the sun.

Normally you’d start at 630am and finish at 5pm, Monday to Friday. Saturday is 630am to 3pm. But at Christmas time, the last four years, I’ve started work on December 21 and gone home on the 24th. That’s how much it means to me.

Your body just battles through with adrenaline and the fact you don’t want to let your customers down.

Christmas is also good because it can be a PR exercise too, because if you provide a family with a good quality turkey that they all enjoy, then, come the next year, they’ll look to buy from you again, and they’ll tell their friends about you as well. Word of mouth is so important.

Social media is important, but you have to know how to work it. Within a matter of a few days starting my Facebook page, we had nearly 2,000 people on it. With that group, when you’re selling a product, to hit that amount of people straight away is really effective. So, now we’ve got an audience of around 4,000 people. So, if I put an offer out I know it going to hit thousands of people.

Hitchin Nub News: You must be shattered when it comes to Christmas Day. Do you actually cook the turkey for your family?

Keith Jones: I do. Usually I cook for 14. The kids open their presents, I cook a proper Christmas breakfast. A proper fry up – with our meat of course. [Smiles]. Then, me and my sons, we’ll have a Fosters for breakfast. And then we’ll start prepping the dinner, and eat the dinner around 4pm. Nine times out of ten, by 730pm I’m asleep. Normally Boxing Day, I’m not really 'there' as such. The hard work up to Christmas hits you by Boxing Day. You’ve got your adrenaline from work until then, along with the kids’ excitement on Christmas Day, but I’m normally ‘gone’ by Boxing Day.

We love Christmas. We’ve got a big family. We’ve got three grandkids already. With another two on the way early next year.

Hitchin Nub News: What do your kids think about granddad being a singing butcher?

Keith Jones: They love it. Michael Buble is my favourite singer. Westlife and Michael Buble. My son Jack and I did Michael Buble at the back of the shop previously, and funnily enough, on Friday, we’re actually in the process of planning our Christmas song this year. We’ll be putting it on our Facebook group shortly. Watch this space…

Hitchin Nub News: We’ll have to put it on our website too. Who’s it going to be this year? Or is that a trade secret?

Keith Jones: We can’t reveal it yet…

Hitchin Nub News: Fair enough, fair enough - we’ll just have to wait. Ok, talk us through what people in Hitchin are buying from you at the moment, during the second lockdown of 2020…

Keith Jones: Everthing really. The packs are our biggest thing. Everyone goes for them. Especially ones we do with veg. We can do packs for single people or big families. The thing is that I have to imagine what they would like.

So, if I put pork chops in, someone will say, ‘can I not have pork chops, could I have a bit of gammon instead’. The thing is, I don’t mind. I’m obliging. I’ll always go the extra mile for my customers. Because they go the extra mile for me. They open the doors for me. Because without my customers I’d have no business. I’m grateful to them, not the other way around. It’s part and parcel of what I do. I’m never grumpy, either!

Hitchin Nub News: Just out of interest, what’s been your biggest order?:

Keith Jones: My biggest order ever? It was for a company called Zeus catering. They called me up out of the blue and wanted 4,000 4oz organic beefburgers.

Hitchin Nub News: What was that for?

Keith Jones: It was for the opening of St Pancras station. The Queen was there.

Hitchin Nub News: So the Queen might have had one of your burgers?

Keith Jones:: Yes. When they first asked, I said: ‘Give me half and hour to make a few phone calls’. I had to physically bone out four whole bodies of beef. It took two days solid. I could generally bone out a whole body in an hour and a half. If I was to go to another country to work I suppose I would go in at quite a high level.

Hitchin Nub News: You’re a master butcher. I was watching Masterchef the other day and the contestants were cutting up a chicken or something - do you ever watch Masterchef and go: ‘I could do better than that?’

Keith Jones:: Actually, I saw something on social media where Gordon Ramsey boned out a chicken blindfolded. Well, I did that on Facebook…

Hitchin Nub News: Who’s was better? Yours or Gordon Ramsey’s?

Keith Jones:: Mine of course. [The merest hint of a smile]. I love Gordon Ramsey, I watch him all the time. He could beat me on the cooking side of things…

Hitchin Nub News: There’s a TV programme in that. Ok, in terms of gourmet cooking and people being more interested in their food and the provenance of their food. Have you come across that?

Keith Jones:: Yes. A few customers come in and ask about that. And I show them lots of different things, such as if they want organic. If they want grass fed Aberdeen Angus, and so on. I go into great detail if they ask me. And if they want a particular brand of, for example, beef that I don’t sell, I can get it for them.

I had a gentleman who asked for some Japanese beef, Kobe, which is marbled. He wanted me to source it for him, so I did. He also wanted t-bone steaks. He found the 21-day version was not quite soft enough for him, so I hung it for 48 days instead. That’s what I do. It’s going the extra mile.

Hitchin Nub News: Having spent time in Japan I can confirm Kobe steaks are magnificent. But, as a butcher, I have to ask, what’s your favourite meal?

Keith Jones:: [Emphatically]. Rib-eye steak. It’s got flavor. It’s soft, tender, it’s got a little bit of fat in it, it’s lovely.

Hitchin Nub News: You’re a big Liverpool fan as well aren’t you? You go up to Anfield when you can as well don’t you? What did you do when they won the Premier League during lockdown?

Keith Jones:: [Smiles] It was a wait…we got absolutely smashed in the hot tub…

Hitchin Nub News: I’m not going to ask any further questions about that! But do you ever have a burger outside Anfield? Do you tell them you’re a butcher?

Keith Jones:: They can’t understand me up there!

Hitchin Nub News: Keith, thank you so much for your time, I’ll be popping in to buy some nice rib-eye later in the week, all the best.

Keith Jones:: Cheers Layth, all the best with Nub News. We’ll put it on our Facebook page when it’s out.

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Keith Jones Butchers has been shortlisted for prestigious national awards. Read Nub News for more, and how Hitchin can help them to win.

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