A winning combination
PUBLISHED: 09:44 21 July 2015
Linda Duffin took a trip to Trimley St Martin near Felixstowe to visit the hub behind EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards winner The Artisan Smokehouse
It’s Thursday morning and Tim and Gill Matthews are showing me round the hub of their business empire. It doesn’t take long because it’s about 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. For the past five years they have run the award-winning Artisan Smokehouse from their compact home kitchen in Trimley St Martin near Felixstowe.
That’s about to change, but in the meantime, they continue to prepare, smoke and pack everything from home, albeit with a commercial kitchen licence. There are chiller boxes on the doorstep, baskets of garlic in the hall, packaging in the conservatory, wall-to-wall freezers in the garage, a custom-built smoker in the garden and a kitchen full of gadgets and gizmos. As Tim wryly points out, it doesn’t leave much room for cooking dinner parties.
Working seven-days-a week doesn’t leave much time for entertaining either but their hard work has paid off. What began as a hobby has been transformed into a thriving business with a £200,000 annual turnover. And by the end of the year, they are hoping they will have moved into new purpose-built premises close by in Gill’s home village of Falkenham.
“We had a bit of a crisis at Christmas last year where we couldn’t produce enough food to supply the demand. It was a turning point for the business,” says Tim. “So we took the step to expand, because we think that’s the sensible thing to do for long-term growth.”
The couple bought a second-hand barn and work is already underway on the new site. There will be plenty of space for the planned expansion, with a shop, a café (hopefully licensed) and a training workshop so Tim can teach classes in smoking and curing. And perhaps most importantly, they will be able to produce double the amount of food.
That will be good news for their devoted following of fans. Although the Artisan Smokehouse supplies local shops and a couple of private jet and super-yacht companies, 95% of its customers are people who buy mail order. “They’re people like you and me, people who like to sit at home and make amazing food,” says Tim. And he is happy with that.
“I don’t buy from supermarkets and I don’t sell through supermarkets either and I never will. We’re not chasing world domination. We just want to be a small, nice company that’s easy to deal with, based in Suffolk, selling to Suffolk people and people throughout the UK. We want to stay hands-on, hand-made and local,” he added.
And although the pair set up their stall at shows across the country, it was the Aldeburgh food and drink festival that Tim says was key to the growth of their business.
“We exhibited in year one, I think, and have exhibited every year since and we love it. It gives us a platform to talk to people who we wouldn’t necessarily meet. It’s lovely to do something local which is nationally respected.”
Buying their raw ingredients locally is important too. They prioritise Suffolk produce wherever possible, and always free-range or an equivalent. It is that passion for provenance and quality that has earned the Artisan Smokehouse so many awards.
“We’ve been very lucky. The very first year we started we entered the Great Taste Awards and were lucky enough to win a top prize, a triple gold, for our beef fillet, which was stunning,” says Tim. They have gone on to win more Great Taste Awards and in 2014 became the Young British Foodies Meat Champion, a national competition for top producers judged by a panel of their peers and chefs.
But the biggest feather in their cap, they say, is winning the Pride of Suffolk category in this year’s EADT Food and Drink Awards. “It’s a company award rather than one for an individual product, which we’re really proud of because although we’ve won national awards, it didn’t mean as much to us as winning something locally.”
Why? “Because I think Suffolk is a hard nut to crack, to be honest. I think it’s a difficult thing to stand out, a) because we’ve got so many amazing food and drink producers locally, and b) because Suffolk people are careful where they spend their money, far more so than perhaps London and the home counties, and I think if you can make it in Suffolk, you can make it anywhere. I’m really proud of the fact that although probably one of the smallest, we’re one of the best-respected local businesses, for the provenance and the effort we put in.”