Picking up his first butcher’s knife, aged 12, fuelled Shane Stewart’s passion for butchery which grew as he worked alongside his father Gabriel.

In 2014, Stewart’s Butchers will celebrate being part of Enniskillen’s high street for 35 years. Opened by Gabriel Stewart in 1979, the butchers was situated on Darling Street for 17 years (where The Jolly Sandwich now stands). Gabriel learned his trade locally and in Dewhurst’s Butchers, London, passing those skills onto his seven children, particularly Shane, who took over the reigns in 2011 when Gabriel retired after 50 years. In 1996, Stewart’s moved across the road to Church Street, where the family home was situated.

Major improvements over the years have included the addition of a delicatessen, expanding the processing unit by moving downstairs, making office space and a staff room upstairs and the refurbishment of the new shop last year.

“Today there are 25 full and part-time staff employed at Stewarts and it is a nationally recognised award winning butchers shop whose name is synonymous with tradition, quality and a family friendly service,” Shane tells The Impartial Reporter.

“Butcher shops have had to move on the same as any business,” Shane reflects. “We are a long time since the saw-dust was thrown on the floor!” he laughs.

Changing customer tastes require constant innovation, as does advances in technology.

While more people are tasting new foods as they travel the world, watching TV cookshows and following celebrity chefs, Shane has noticed that there has been “an evolution of tradition.” “We are still getting in the sides of beef, but we are doing a lot more with it now. There’s a desire for convenience food, we have a new heat and eat range.

“We introduced our deli counter about 15 years ago and we’ve just kept on developing it. You wouldn’t have seen tubs of olives on our counter in 1979.” Shane reflects: “The counter that my father started with has developed with peoples’ tastes.” He says: “We watch programmes and read magazines the same as anyone else. The trick is to be in front of the trend.” His own favourite dish is the same as many of his customers; a rib roast. “We usually sell out most weekends much to Linda’s annoyance because she can’t get a rib roast on a Sunday.” Because they are proud of their products, each year they enter the Great taste Awards, winning in 2013 for their Spanish Style sausage.

Tourists visiting County Fermanagh have queried whether products from Stewart’s butchers can be delivered. This resulted in their website and online ordering facility getting established last year. “A lot of people from Belfast, Banbridge and down south would order online,” Shane explains. “We get a lot of customers who would do self-catering holidays down here. Quite a few were asking if we would deliver. Since last year we have an order online facility. We will deliver the product in an insulated box which guarantees for over 24 hours.” The main lesson he has learned over the years is that retention of the traditional crafts is of utmost importance.

“When we re-did shop, we changed the name to Stewart’s Craft Butchers. We have retained the traditional crafts of butchery. We still get our meat in the same way; full sized beef, full sized lamb and pork. We break down the animal ourselves.” He continues: “Everything is fully traceable. Each week we get our beef delivery in with a trace report showing the farmer’s name, the breed of cattle etc and it’s all quality assured.” All the meat comes from farmers in Fermanagh and Tyrone because Stewarts deals exclusively with Foyle abattoir in Omagh.

Two pieces of advice from his father stand out: “Constantly re-invest in the business.” Shane adds: “He always says: ‘You pay your staff, suppliers and the tax man first, and then you pay yourself.’” Access to finance has “not been impossible”. Shane explains that the business used First Trust Bank’s Owner Managed Business Fund to fund the latest refurbishment. “We stuck with First Trust bank because when my father first started, he went around every bank in town and it was the only one that would lend him money to start a business. It wasn’t straight-forward but it wasn’t impossible.” He and his wife Linda (who has been employed there for the last two years) decided that, because there were underlying issues with the floor which would mean taking everything out, they would “do the best job possible.” Shane states: “The town centre is the heart and soul of any town. We’ve always been proud to have a business in the town centre. We like to keep that going and to hold up our end. Plus, when you are spending the guts of 80-hours-a-week here, it’s nice to be in comfortable surroundings!” Asked if he has been impacted by the current recession, he replies: “Everyone has been writing about the demise of the butcher shop. When you read trade magazines it’s like a running total of how many shops have closed each year. Customers can choose where they buy, but we like to think we sell a top quality product at a reasonable price.” With the arrival of the multi-national supermarkets in Enniskillen, Shane noticed: “Every time one opens, there’s a flock to it but gradually, over time, they come back.

“Sometimes butcher shops can get a reputation for being dearer than a supermarket but that’s a myth. I have a supermarket price app and I read the supplements in the Sunday papers and I am generally cheaper. Yes they have a headline prices and OK, that is a special offer for that product that week.” He adds that Fermanagh people like interaction with people they know and that butchers will endeavour to “do that bit extra for the customer.” Family commitment is of utmost importance to Stewart’s success, Shane believes. “I am the second oldest of seven. Every one of us has been involved to a greater or lesser extent over the years. I’ve been here since I left school. My brother Emmett was a plumber but he has been working for me for the last few years. My sister Aisling worked here for around six years but she has a young family to look after now. And Kirsty works here, but is on maternity leave at the moment.” He reflects: “It’s easier to be open and honest with your family. Family are generally more flexible too; they know it has to be done. They know how the customer needs to be served and how things need to be displayed because it’s bred into them.” They did not tell Gabriel of the extent of their refurbishment plans. “We took my father to the sign off meeting and the designer showed us a 3D image of the shop. We didn’t know what his reaction would be because he was rightly proud of the shop he had. But he was delighted,” Shane reveals.

“[Gabriel] had been retired a couple of years at that stage, but he said that seeing that 3D image re-invigorated him. He couldn’t wait to see what it would be like.” Shane and Linda have twin sons Michael and Connor, aged 12, and daughter Sophie. He harbours hopes that they may take over the family business when the time comes. But for now, he is determined to “bring the business on for the next 20 years”, and the new look store is his way of “making it part of my legacy too.”