Allen and Kevin Rees are a father and son duo who have had great success running their butchers shop A&K Rees family Butchers on Cowbridge Road, Canton, managing to survive for over thirty years when so many independent local shops have come and gone.
Alt Cardiff met the pair at their store on a Friday afternoon. Is it a lazy Friday before the weekend? Hardly, even now with the working day almost over the two are both hard at work slicing up and preparing a variety of meats as they chat about the past, present and future of the store and butchery profession.
Kevin is, as his father calls him, the “picture man” and usually found in the front of house serving customers during opening hours whilst his father prepares the produce, a skill he acquired at a young age whilst still in school in Rhwbina; “I started as a Saturday boy in the local Butchers on the order bikes, it was all very different back then.”
"Picture man" Kevin at the front of the store.
The path from then to now is pretty straightforward except for a short detour into the world of bakery; “My heart was set on becoming an apprentice patissier.”
Fortunately for Canton locals Allen returned to meat and 48 years later he and his son own their own store, although the memory appears to be a little fuzzy about when the store itself actually opened as Allen drums his fingers on his knife handle in thought before acquiring assistance on the subject of an exact opening date.
“How long have we been here Kevin?”
Kevin averts his eyes momentarily from finely slicing some meat, “1981 we opened.”
“That’s right” Allen confirms, “we opened in 1981.”
Kevin puts down his knife to elaborate; “and how it has changed around here since then. All the small businesses are closing one after another as all the larger supermarkets are opening.”
“The whole culture has changed” states Allen as Kevin returns to his precision slicing, “When I was a kid your mother went into the green grocers for groceries, the bakers for bread and butchers for meat, now people want to get what they need as quickly and cheaply as possible, and don’t even get me started on online shopping!”
So how have the store managed to survive, what has given these two butcher’s pies the edge over what appears to be an overcrowded Cardiff pie scene?
“That is a secret!” Laughs Kevin “But it is all about quality, putting rubbish in your pies just to make them cheaper isn’t a compromise, keep up the quality and people will come back.”
“And we have loyal customers,” continues Allen “we have the same people coming in week in week out” customers who have included Welsh singer Charlotte Church and former Wales scrum-half Terry Holmes.
It is difficult to imagine working so intimately with a close family member, but the two seem to pull it off with ease, clearly long term experience in the kitchen and a “picture man” on the shop floor makes for a winning combination.
Of course the conversation cannot end without raising the subject of beer, the famous pairing to a pie.
“I’m a cider drinker myself” says Allen “unfortunately we haven’t come up with a cider pie yet.”