Holly Bacon, dry cured and true Kiwi since 1914

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THRIVING: Gordon and Claire Vogtherr are continuing the Holly Bacon tradition and celebrating 100 years in business. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR
THRIVING: Gordon and Claire Vogtherr are continuing the Holly Bacon tradition and celebrating 100 years in business. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR

Declaration of War on Germany was not a good start on the first day of German pork butcher Carl Vogtherr's Hasting butchery in 1914.

Business for the first Holly Bacon, on Heretaunga St near the Grand Hotel, was "good enough but the war created many difficulties" his son Ernest wrote in his autobiography.

"My father's little nest egg was frozen in the Post Office Savings Bank," he said.

"He had to register with the police and other complications arose, some reasonable some purely personal, such as the bank manager who turned down a cheque without even ringing up. My father meanwhile had several hundred pounds in his pocket ready for banking."

He said despite dirty tactics the business prospered because of superior product.

"To the credit of the public they resented these tactics and I believe they did us more good than harm.

"One firm sent a message. 'He'll die.' My father like a flash retorted in good New Zealand parlance, 'It will be a bloody slow death'.

"It finished up with this firm asking us to buy them out. They even had a placard in the window, Buy from the British firm, surmounted with the Union Jack.

"However this was nothing compared to what was to come. A German in Gisborne, probably in exasperation, opened his mouth just too wide. This led to real trouble. That night a mob assembled and wrecked his premises. He never reopened.

"Once the smoke was lit it spread like wildfire and many other places were wrecked.
"In Hastings a patriotic meeting was billed to take place in the Princess Theatre, since demolished."

He said some locals "were determined that the good name of Hastings was not to be tarnished by that sort of hooliganism".

"We had a tough police sergeant then, Sgt Hogan. He organised a number of reliable citizens and the Legion of Frontiersmen mobilised.

"Meanwhile my brothers and I set up kerosene tins as a warning from the backyard. All night we sat out and waited for the worst.

"Outside Sgt Hogan, all six feet of him, strode up and down through the mob which had assembled saying, 'Here you, there are plenty of Germans in France if you want to fight' and other similar remarks. The Legion of Frontiersmen in uniform scattered through the crowd also had them guessing. By and by they just melted away and we could breathe again.

"No sir, I am not a ballyhoo hero. I was dead scared. After that we had no further bother. We found the Kiwis, as we now call ourselves, take a man as they find them. Play the game, be straightforward honourable and honest and they accept you. Any smart aleckness and it's finished."

Gordon Vogtherr came home from New Plymouth Boys' High School in 1942 and joined the business.

He said to his knowledge the family suffered no anti-German sentiment during WW2.
"My father applied for the forces and was turned down. They told him to go out, change his name and come back in again.

"He said never. The name was too valuable."

The Vogtherr family can be traced to 1215, the coat of arms from 1471. A Vogtherr was an early follower of Martin Luther.

Grandson Gordon said when his grandfather first opened on Heretaunga St he offered 14 different products "but he found it didn't work so we cut it down to around four in the end".
Gordon's father was forced to retire in 1961 due to ill health and Gordon retired in 1987.
"All the time that I was in the business I had one motto - quality and service - and if you don't get both I want to know.

"We knew our customers personally, they were our friends. I used to do the deliveries and we used a baby Renault with the passenger seat taken out."

His father was renowned for his love of cars.

"He ended up having six Porsches in a row, as well as three Alvises and an Aston Martin."

Daughter Claire joined in 1982 and her daughter Ellen is a new recruit - the fifth generation.
Claire said Holly Bacon's retail outlet was a very small part of the business.

"Most of what we do is bacon and ham curing," she said.

The distinctive packaging and good taste has made it popular fare in Foodstuffs' supermarkets.

"We dry cure our bacon for two to three weeks, naturally wood smoke it and air dry the bacon to ensure that any excess moisture is removed. So when our bacon goes in the frypan it cooks crisply and does not boil in excess water.

Holly only uses New Zealand pork and last year won the industry's Consumer's Choice Award.
Success has led to a radical factory redevelopment, currently underway. Holly Bacon is expanding into two adjoining buildings at its St Aubyn St site, tripling its footprint.
"We are going to be at this site for another 45 years, so it is not a gamble. We will have a deli with a lot more offerings."
The recipes for some of the 14 products her great grandfather offered have been lost and she hopes to find them again on a trip to Germany this month. She will be attending a meeting of descendants of German pork butchers forced to emigrate, she suspects because of their Lutheran faith, in the 19th century.
The products will go into Holly Bacon's new delicatessen, which will be linked to a "test kitchen".
"We will cook for the shop but I see it being used as a social space - it can be opened up into the shop - and can be used after hours for functions."
She has spoken to Ya Bon's artisan baker about running baking classes.
"I seriously want to know how he makes those breads. If I want to know other people will want to know too. Anyone from the Farmers Market could use it - there are plenty of people who do some really interesting stuff."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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