First anniversary for business that provided lockdown lifeline

Tees Business Digital Media Pack

A family-run Tees butcher, which was launched three weeks before the first lockdown, has survived through sheer hard work and the use of social media.

Father and son Colin and Craig Mackenzie bought Danny’s Family Butchers in Middlesbrough’s Dundas Shopping Centre and Market this time last year after the owner Danny McCluskey decided to hang up his apron at the age of 70.

But within days the market, like everywhere else, was told it had to close.

“I’ll never forget it,” said Colin, who lives in Darlington.

“The women from the café were in tears. We’d just bought thousands of pounds worth of meat. I thought ‘What have we done?’ That was the start of lots of worry and many sleepless nights.”

To add to the family’s problems, lockdown meant the new business was unable to open a bank account for six months. As a food retailer, the butchers was allowed to stay open and has remained so throughout the year, although it reduced its opening hours to help social distancing and also allow time for Colin and Craig to prepare their meat and deliveries.

They also put their brand on their van and clothes, so people who might be suspicious or nervous about strangers, knew who they were. Some customers put money under flowerpots to minimise contact.

During the first lockdown Craig was delivering to 150 separate addresses per week. The rest of the family were also hard at work as the butchers widened its offering to include Sunday dinner packs, complete with peeled and prepared vegetables, and special gift packs for every occasion: Halloween, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and, of course, Christmas.

Colin’s wife Mandy peeled vegetables and washed overalls. Their daughter Elizabeth, who works in a care home, helped take orders. Another daughter Victoria worked in the shop three days a week and spent the rest of her time marketing the business and taking orders, and even the youngest member of the family – 10-year-old Ruby May – helped in the shop when not home-schooling.

“People’s concept of time went out the window during the first lockdown,” said 55-year-old Colin.

“Victoria was getting calls all times of the night. In the end I told her to turn off her phone.”

As well as phone calls, orders gradually came flooding in through the business’s Facebook page which was started from scratch by Victoria last March. There are now 3,500 followers.

“If it wasn’t for Facebook I’m not sure we’d have survived and we’re so grateful for the support of our customers who live all over The Tees Valley,” said Colin. “We’re now starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. If we can get through this we can get through anything.”

The family has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. As the business approaches its first anniversary it is going to be re-branded from Danny’s Family Butchers to C.A.M. Family Meats – based on the initials of both Colin and Craig. The family has also invested in a new walk-in freezer.

Colin predicts a bright future for Dundas Indoor Market: “I’d never shopped in the Dundas until I took this over a year ago – and what a surprise. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave, full of a variety of local businesses with unique products and services.”

He is also full of praise for the market’s owner, its landlord and its manager David Harris.

“The family are using the slogan ‘A Cut Above the Rest” to go with the new name of the business,” said Mr Harris, “and that perfectly sums them up. We couldn’t be more impressed or proud of how this lovely family have adjusted to running their business in such trying circumstance and provided a lifeline for the local community and those who really needed them.”