Brought to the Journal's attention by one satisfied customer, Ken Hammond & Sons of Chiswick appear to have no shortage of admirers. During our visit to the shop, one customer volunteered: "It is absolutely superb."
As well as stocking an extensive range of quality meats, deli items, condiments and fruit and vegetables, the shop is attracting trade with its innovative and constantly evolving value-added range.Friendly service provides a further draw, and fits well with the village feel alongside the Thames in Chiswick. "People come in and have a laugh," says Liz Collett, formerly a director of food studies at Kensington & Chelsea College.
"We know a lot of the customers. You go to a supermarket and it's soulless and almost skill-free." Collett started out as a customer of Hammond's (she used meat from the shop during her demonstrations at the college) before joining the staff.
Hammond bought the shop, then a very basic affair, back in 1985. His history in the trade begins in 1975 at the foodhall of the old Barker's department store on Kensington High Street and includes a City & Guilds qualification in butchery skills at Smithfield College, four years at a Kensington butcher's and two years in wholesaling. "While nice, because I didn't have to work on Saturdays, wholesaling offered no job satisfaction," he says.
A major turning point for his own shop occurred four years ago, over the Queen's Jubilee weekend, when it was ram-raided and the entire façade, including door, was destroyed.
The robbers came up empty-handed, but Ken was left pondering the future of his business while trading from behind a boarded up facade. The front was eventually reconstructed, and trading resumed proper, but it was felt the time had come for a change in direction. "The (break-in) did us a favour. We changed direction after that," says Hammond. Driving around, in search of inspiration, he decided to use Collett's skills, putting her to work at creating her own brand of marinades and flavourings to replace those he had always bought in. It was the start of a strong partnership. Putting her expertise to work, Collett created a range of marinades using fresh, natural ingredients, including sauces without additives and low in salt and sugar.
"We do things that people can't get in the supermarkets," she says. "We don't sell anything we wouldn't eat ourselves."
A focus on convenience led to the creation of a value-added range with Collett, in one of many examples of local demand driving innovation, creating chicken nuggets for one parent concerned over the contents of the mass-produced variety.
The shop's two Ergo fresh meat display cabinets, installed by Creative Retail Solutions last August, are now packed with the fruit of Collett's labours, from Moroccan lamb kebabs to free-range chicken thighs rubbed with fresh herbs, and steeped in garlic and lemon and Gressingham duck breasts soaked in a plum and ginger marinade. "Every Monday we sit down and think of new ideas," says Hammond.
There are sausages too, loads of tasty sausages including a Roast Red Pepper and Coriander, Merquez, Old English and a St George special made with juniper, maize, flat-leaf parsley and spring onion which has been modified again to cash in on the World Cup. "Barbecue products are flying out of the shop," says Collett. The week of England's first World Cup match has been the busiest to date with a queue forming to buy the shop's barbecue products. "It shows we're doing something right," adds Hammond.
The shop has a lot of younger customers and people prepared to spend, some as much as £200 in just one trip. Then there are the big private orders that have ranged from a barbecue order for 60 guests to providing an entire weekend's menu ingredients for one lucky wife's birthday celebrations. "It's good PR," says Collett. "You soon get a loyal customer base who come back week-after-week."
Some stuff, inevitably, has to be bought in. A third Ergo cabinet is crammed with cooked meats including Vallebona salami, Toppings pies and Hawkridge Farm cheeses and olives. Herbs, condiments, bread sticks, pasta, tinned soups, eggs and biscuits are also stocked. So too are fruit and vegetables.
Meat suppliers include Plantation Pigs (free-range, GM-free pork, also used in the sausages), Childhay Manor (organic lamb) and Mathers (beef, lamb). S&J
Frederickson supplies Poulet Anglais, (also served in Gordon Ramsay restaurants); chicken is also sourced from Elmwood and Shire Foods. Turkeys are from Copas. "The only way you can survive is by serving quality," says Hammond."
Fussy to the degree of removing gristle from entrecote steaks to ensure customers are happy, Hammond has been known to reject deliveries of meat he regards as poor to ensure his reputation for quality stays intact. And customers appreciate it, often stopping him in the street to tell him how satisfied they are with his meats.
Shop: Ken Hammond & Sons - Chiswick, London
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 8am-5.30pm;
Most popular cuts: marinated meats, sausages and
burgers in summer; braising steak with the fat removed in winter
Specialities: Collett's marinated meats range
Staff: Hammond, Collett (full-time), one part-timer
Busiest times: Christmas. "Like every butcher, we have a lot of once-a-year customers," says Hammond; June and July, between school and church fetes and the barbecue trade.