British butcher and chef Jonathan Bull has gone from working with Gordon Ramsay to a stall on Station Avenue in Langford. But as he tells it, he’s glad for the change of pace.
“It was as bad as that. Everybody thinks the Ramsay thing is a show, but it is like that because, well then he had two Michelin stars. So it’s not my reputation on the line. It’s all on him.”
Bull, originally from Sheffield in England (he proudly wears a tattoo on his arm depicting the badge of his football club Sheffield Wednesday), worked alongside Ramsay in the ‘80s in a hotel in London. He worked as the butcher, usually cutting up the meat earlier in the day for what they would need for that evening’s dinner service. The one shift he was called onto the line to work as a cook, he was fired, a fate he said was common in the cutthroat, helter-skelter, culinary world at the time.
“It was pretty intense. But it made you able to cope under pressure, which is the main thing. Most chefs are different in that respect because it’s all constant pressure for like two or three hours – and we get off on that. Whereas most people would just crumble and not like it one bit.”
Bull started on the long and winding road to Langford when he was young, growing up above his parent’s butcher shop in Sheffield as a child.
“So I had no choice really. I had to do stuff with my old man before I went to school. Then when I came back, back then we used to still put sawdust down on the floor. So he’d leave that for me to sweep all that up at the end of the day and put a fresh coat down.”
After years in kitchens throughout the UK, Bull moved to Canada, working as a chef and later a college professor in several towns in B.C.’s interior, like Kamloops and Terrace.
“As soon as the pipeline stuff came in (to Terrace) and all the camps, we lost all the students… because they were now making a ton of money in the camps and not going to come to school. So the attendance plummeted and I ended up going to the camp and being a chef for all my students.”
Around four or five years ago he moved to Victoria, taking over Choux Choux Charcuterie and starting his own shop, Bull and Son’s Delicatessen on Fort Street.
But last June he had to close down because the landlord wanted to jack up the rent. Combined with struggling to keep the store running on his own during COVID and then grappling with plummeting retail sales and higher costs with inflation after the pandemic, the rent increase made it the right time to step away.
Bull was able to keep things running with some of his wholesale clients and loyal customers – he shares a kitchen with another business in Sooke, Bull doing his prep work during the evenings. Ideally, he would be able to set up another permanent shop in Sooke, where he now lives, but said affordable commercial space can be even harder to find out there than in downtown Victoria. The Langford Station Avenue spot gave him an affordable solution.
“It just gives my customers somewhere to come and shoot the breeze. I wanted it to be that little community butcher shop like my old man’s place was. We knew everybody, we knew what they wanted when they walked in – you’re already wrapping the sausages because you knew that’s what they want,” he said.
“I’d rather just do this and be happy and chilled than be stressed out to the max, worrying about a shop all the time. It takes a toll and I can see why so many people go out of business and that is hard on small businesses.”