We’re incredibly lucky to have some amazing, long-standing businesses in our membership, and even luckier to have two of the oldest businesses in North Tyneside represented on our management team too.
The second of two celebratory blogs Kathryn Nicholson’s.
When Kathryn Meadows took over as joint owner of Nicholson’s Butchers in Whitley Bay, she took joint control of a business that had seen its fair share of challenges in its 108 years of butchering in the town.
Kathryn chatted to us about the history of the business and the obstacles the team has overcome on the journey to being one of the oldest family-run businesses in North Tyneside.
A history of Nicholson’s
My Great Grandfather Charles started Nicholson’s Butcher shop back in 1914. He opened the original shop in the same unit we use now, on Park View in Whitley Bay. The original shop was much smaller than it is now and it had sawdust on the floor and old hooks hanging from the ceiling.
My Grandfather, also called Charles but known to everyone in Whitley Bay as Charlie, took over the business when he was about 30 years old. He’d been in the Navy and served in WWII. He continued to run the business until he was 90, cycling in to work every day.
My Dad, Doug, followed in his footsteps and joined the Merchant Navy as a young man. That enabled him to travel a lot but he’d work as a delivery driver when he was at home. But at that point he wasn’t involved in the running of the business at all. When he came home from the Navy, he started running the business alongside my grandfather. Dad converted the flat over the shop into a bakery and offices, plus he expanded the footprint of the shop downstairs to something like the layout it has now. He overcame all kinds of hurdles to expand the business.
When my grandfather died, my dad took over running the business on his own and I stepped in to learn the ropes. I’d done a degree in food science and had travelled all over the world for three years working in large scale food companies. I loved the development role I ended up in, working with big scale manufacturers and I learned a huge amount about the food business. I was working for one of the big retailers as a manufacturing manager – it was an amazing time but there were so many hoops to jump through.
I had always been adamant that I didn’t want to work in the family business because I wanted to work for larger companies. But after years of being unable to make my own decisions and many discussions about the future of Nicholsons with my dad, 10 years ago I came home and worked alongside him to learn the business.
I started at the bottom, cleaning and baking, learning how the business functioned for the first six months or so form then I started making suggestions to improve and expand the business, based on what I’d learned on my travels.
I slowly took on more elements of the business – I introduced a website and built a presence on social media, I wanted to attract younger customers and grow our product range.
When the pandemic hit it was sink or swim… We had to change our processes to enable us to take more orders, introduced more options online, created customer accounts and ensure we were able to continue to trade in a safe way.
The following year we did a big refit on the shop, while we couldn’t open so we were just offering pick ups from the business which meant we didn’t need the shop front. It was a challenge but we managed to persevere. The people of Whitley Bay were incredibly supportive and we’re proud to have continued to provide them with high quality meat and other products even in the face of the pandemic.
Not the first challenge
The Covid pandemic is definitely not the first challenge we’ve faced in our 108 years of business. Family businesses bring with them their own range of problems but we’ve always worked together to overcome those.
We always strive to offer traditional butchering but with more modern techniques. The business has always provided for our family but challenges like the BSE outbreak in the 80s and 90s caused a huge problem for butchers up and down the country.
In terms of the pandemic, it wasn’t the actual lockdowns that caused our problems – we were able to keep trading albeit on a reduced basis – but the resulting price hikes and supply issues. There’s no doubt that the situation the world is in now, with increased living costs, supply problems and the cost of ingredients is the most tricky time in recent history.
To find out more about Nicholson’s Butchers, visit www.nicholsonsbutchers.co.uk