Tear expected when 'old Pom' leaves

By Katie Holland

He's the "old Pom'' who's been keeping customers at his Rotorua butcher's shop well-fed and well-entertained for 30 years.

But last week Russell Hicks of Russell's Quality Meats put down his knives for the final time after selling up to retire with his wife to Whangarei.

London-born Mr Hicks trained as a butcher when he was 16 and moved  to New Zealand 40 years ago, settling in Rotorua in 1973.

He worked for nine years at a Rotorua superette until he saw the opportunity to set up his own butchery on Fairy Springs Rd.

"This place originally had four roller doors and I took one roller door and I opened up the shop in 1982.''

Back then, Kiwis' culinary tastes were much simpler.

"It was steaks, roast, chops,'' he said. "There's so much more variety these days.''

Mr Hicks takes great pride in the quality of his meat, which is all produced fresh on the premises. He said many people were starting to go back to specialist butchers because of that quality.

"You'll get young couples in and they'll look and say that looks nice and they'll compare ... we haven't seen a huge increase but at least they're coming in.''

He's managed to keep prices comparable to the supermarkets and has maintained a loyal customer base, some of whom go in up to four times a week to get fresh meat for that evening's meal.

But  it  was major roadworks about five years ago, not supermarkets, that had proved the biggest threat to his business.

"That knocked us around a bit, they [customers] couldn't get in and out but we've survived it.''

He has no doubt why the shop has survived so long.

"The service and the quality ... and this old Pom,'' he laughed.

In recent years Mr Hicks has struggled with rheumatoid arthritis in his hands and has had two hip replacements.

He credits his "amazing'' staff David, Graham and Kelz for keeping the place going smoothly.

The staff will stay on under new owner Glen Brake, of Brake's Butchery in Ngongotaha, and Mr Hicks said customers had nothing to worry about _ the  service and quality would remain the same.

He said his customers _ some of whom he had been serving for up to 40 years _ had become his friends and drinking buddies and it's them he will miss the most.

"The cheek goes around, the joshing goes around, [I am] very close-knit with customers,'' he said. ``I want to say a big thank you to my lovely customers.''

A farewell is planned before he heads north  this month and Mr Hicks said there were likely to be a few tears.

"[I] opened it up from nothing and survived for 30 years,'' he said.

"It [leaving] is going to leave such a huge hole in my life.''


- Rotorua Daily Post

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