By JrmDecember 13,2016
Anthony is the founder and part owner of Vic’s Meat, a wholesale and retail company that can today, be rated as one of the best in the world. Not only is Anthony extremely passionate and creative businessman, he also possesses an in-depth knowledge and devotion to the industry. This is something that he inherited from his father Victor, who is also a founder and part owner of Vic’s Meat.
Anthony and his father come from long line of butchers, Victor being 4th generation. He arrived in Australia as a 17-year-old in the 70’s, with nothing but the clothes on his back. But he had a great work ethic and a rich knowledge of meat and built himself a good, stable yet humble life as a butcher. Victor soon met his wife and had three children, his oldest son being Anthony.
Today Victor and Anthony run a very successful business and supply some of the best restaurants in Australia. They have 3 production locations as well as 2 retail stores which make a total of 5 locations. Their large production facility in south Sydney could be considered the heart of the business.
Meeting Anthony is one of those things you will never forget. He is a very happy and charming man that has the ‘gift of the gab’ as well as a drive and an enthusiasm that will leave you wondering how he could possibly manage his daily workload in just 24 hours!
As well as being CEO of Vic’s meat, which is a nationwide distributor, he is often seen on TV, in magazines and at food events. In the meantime, he aspires to have a close and personal relationship with all his customers and makes an effort to address and listen to each of his employees. Anthony is also the creator of the truly awesome and very useful App, ‘Ask the butcher’. The App will never fail to be a hit at your summer BBQ and he now has a TV show with the same name.
Despite all of this, Anthony did not set out to be a butcher. As his father had worked so hard to create a life here in Australia and to build a roof over his family’s head, he wanted his firstborn son to take the opportunity to go to university and become something great. Little did Victor know that he would play a crucial part in his son’s success.
Anthony did go to university and was the first Puharich to graduate. He got a job as a merchant banker in the city. The world was his oyster and he loved it. But one evening at the dinner table, together with his father, mother and two sisters he looked at his father and said.
“I want to come and work for you; I want to be a butcher. “
When I asked Anthony about this, as we met up at his head office in Mascot, he smiled and said, “My only good response to why I did what I did is, “If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
Anthony speaks of his father with so much respect and admiration. He paints a picture of an extremely talented and humble man who just wants to work with meat. Initially, Victor wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of his son leaving his well-paying job in the city to follow this new path. But Anthony was determined proceeded to plan their next steps. They decided to buy a small existing retail business on Oxford Street where Anthony would manage all the back of house and marketing, while Victor would be on the tools in the shop. In Feb 1996 Vic’s meat was born.
Anthony soon got a feel for the business but had to work day and night in order to both manage the business as well as pick up as much working knowledge as possible from his father. He admits that prior to opening Vic’s Meat he had very little knowledge of his father’s trade however he understood that his father was very good at his job and highly respected for his skill and work ethic. Victor had worked for the same employer for 25 years and it took a lot of courage for him to give up that security to open up the family business.
Anthony makes sure to point out that the first five years of Vic’s Meat was hard. “No words, no video, no pictures can describe those first 5 years of building our business.
“I was an animal. I was an animal because I hate disappointment and I hate failure. I desperately wanted to learn 10 times faster than anyone else and I wanted to know everything about the meat industry. I soon realised I was born with the same genes as my father and had the same work ethic”.
“I wanted people to take me seriously and I made it my mission that after 10 years I would know more than most butchers, even if they had worked in the industry longer than me. I respect everybody in this industry, but I was using my ferocious habit to learn and succeed and not to embarrass my dad. He has always introduced me as his son, and if your dad is considered a guru, then they are some big shoes to fill”
The business was struggling and although Oxford Street was a vibrant area full of restaurants and bars, there was not a big demand for retail. The people that lived in the area at the time where young professionals who preferred to eat out rather than cook at home. So Anthony put his business mind to use and started to go knocking on kitchen doors in the neighbourhood. He spoke to the local chefs and restaurant owners and encouraged them to support their local business and guaranteed good quality. If you used to hang around oxford street in the late 90’s you might have seen Anthony pushing his trolley of fresh meat deliveries down the street to supply the local restaurants.
The turning point for Vic’s Meat came when Dietmar Sawyere of the highly regarded restaurant Level 41 showed his interest in the business and started working with Vic’s Meat. “This was the best restaurant in Australia at the time and there probably hasn’t been anything like that since then” Once Level 41 got involved the word spread rapidly and Vic’s started making a name for themselves. It was around this time that they decided to get rid of the retail shop and concentrate on wholesale which was already 95% of their business.
Anthony has always been a “foodie” and shared a love for good food with his family. Although his upbringing was humble and not extravagant by any means, he describes how they probably ate better than most people, which he puts down to his Croatian heritage. Once you start eating good quality, delicious food you can’t go back. Anthony gained as much knowledge as he could about the restaurant industry by regularly eating out and travelling the world on culinary tours. “I did this epic trip 12 years ago, where I went to 4 countries in 10 days and ate in like 30 restaurants. I made dining out a passion of mine and I have probably eaten in more restaurants than most people in this country”.
“I knew that if I learnt more about food and cooking, my pallet would develop. I learnt so much from those experiences and that has helped my business incredibly in terms of my connections with chefs, by better understanding what they do and being able to talk their language.”
Victor Churchill In 2009 Anthony decided to revisit the retail market and opened up Victor Churchill butchers in Woollahra. This is a butcher shop like no other. Not only is the interior beautifully decorated and designed. It allows you to gain a better understanding of how the meat is treated and prepared. Complete with a glass fronted ‘theatre room’ where the butchers are busy at work, a large dry ageing room, a rotisserie and charcuterie desk. It truly is the most beautiful butcher shop I have ever visited, an opinion shared by many. People travel from all over the world to visit Victor Churchill and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and Anthony Bourdain have expressed their admiration for the shop.
So how did it come about?
“Victor Churchill has an incredible and unique history. It’s Australia’s oldest continuously run butcher shop. That store was established in 1876. ‘Nothing lasts for that long nowadays.’ A decade ago Churchill, as it used to be called, was going through a rough time. They were struggling to compete with supermarkets and the previous owner was going to close the shop. Anthony heard of this and knew that it would be such a shame to lose all of that history of craftsmanship, tradition and hard work. He approached the owners and told them that he wanted to buy it and honour its history. So, in 2009 Vic’s Meat went back into retail and became the 4th owners of Churchill’s in 140 years. But, it was not only because of the history that Anthony wanted to take over the store.
“It was a gift from me to my dad. Because he is so humble and conservative, I wanted to help him create a legacy so that when he looked back he could at least say. I tried hard and I left my mark”.
“I also had a tiny chip on my shoulder about failing at our previous retail store and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, that I could show the real potential of the meat industry and that we weren’t this old stale industry. The traditions, the history and craftsmanship of this industry is what grounds me and what I really love. “
The shop in Woollahra has been known as Churchill’s for the last 133 years. “I was never going to get rid of that name, it would have been hugely disrespectful. But I wanted to put our own mark on it and show that this is who we are. So I named it after my father”. It was only after they had started the revamp project that Anthony researched further into the shop’s history and found that the family that established the business in 1876 were two brothers’ named Cyril and Victor. “It felt like that was just meant to be!”.
At Victor Churchill in Woollahra, on a wall at the end of a corridor leading to the staff quarters, there is a 6ft tall picture. The picture is of a young Victor Churchill standing outside the original Churchill’s and it has been edited to include Victor Puharich standing next to him. “The reason I had this picture made was to let the staff know that they don’t just work for ‘any’ butcher shop and for them to know the history. “
This is a great example of why it is so important to buy your meat at your local butcher, rather that at the supermarket. People’s livelihood depends on it. And, due to that fact, you will find that 99.99% of the time that you enter into a butcher’s shop, you will receive the most amazing service. Butchers have an amazing ability to, no matter how hard their job is, and despite the fact that they probably started working at 2am that morning, will always welcome you with a smile and a friendly chat. They are knowledgeable and able to assist you with your choice of meat. What supermarket does that? They also respect their produce and their customers and therefore strive to deliver you the best quality product. So if you are not already buying your meat at your local butcher, check it out, go in and have a chat and if you don’t know where to start, visit Victor Churchill’s in Woollahra or Vic’s Meat Market at the Fish Markets in Pyrmont.
Anthony is constantly working with his team to push the business forward, but it’s important for him that the projects make sense. He is aware of the risks of expanding too quickly and ‘selling out’ It’s oblivious that Anthony’s love and respect for his father and the profession are the building blocks of his success. He is still a very humble man and although Vic’s Meat now has around 200 employees it is important for him to maintain a family feel to the business. He is a strong believer in work ethic, attitude and internal growth.
One exciting project in the making is Victor Churchill’s expansion to New York. Anthony was approached by world famous chef Anthony Bourdain 6 years ago when he visited the Victor Churchill store. “Anthony is a massive fan of my dad and our business and he rang me 12 months ago and he told me that he was embarking on this project in New York. “He shared with me his vision and asked if I would be interested in opening up a Victor Churchill within the project.”
Bourdain is renovating a three-story pier in New York and making it into a global food hall where customers will be able to taste the best, most authentic food that Bourdain has come across on all his travels. There will be around 100 retail and wholesale food vendors from across the world and a Singapore-style hawker market with communal eating spaces surrounded by small stands selling street food from around the world. To read more about the Bourdain Market project click here