Launching a new business is a hard task. Launching a family business that transcends multiple generations is even harder. Matthew Alden is the current Managing Director of seventh generation Oxford-based butchers, Aldens, and while the company might have a long history to reflect on, he’s firmly looking to the future.
Established in 1793 by Isaac Alden, Aldens Butchers started life at Eastwyke farm, a working farm and slaughterhouse near where the Four Pillars now stands. In those early days the farmhouse was surrounded by fields and Cornmarket full of butchers shops.
When Oxford Covered Market was launched in 1774, to house the butchers under one roof and clear ‘untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls’ from the main streets of central Oxford, Aldens moved with it and opened a shop within the market. As time moved on, the business grew and rates increased, leading Aldens to exit the Covered Market in favour of a larger, less expensive, and more accessible site at Osney Mead in November of last year – a major loss for the council-run market.
University of Gloucester and Leiths graduate Matthew, who I met at recent producer dinners at Blenheim Palace and Hertford College, took over the helm from his father in 2003, and has grown the team from 7 to 80 while focussing on reinvesting heavily back into the business. While they have never deviated from fresh meat, they have expanded to include Haymans Fisheries and Osney Food Shed, as well as additional square footage expansion with further units – one of which is used entirely for recycling.
As well respected catering butchers by trade and suppliers to many renowned restaurants and colleges from London to Manchester, Aldens run a fleet of vans making around 200 deliveries a day, in addition to serving up to 1200 people per week in their on-site shops – Meatmaster and Osney Food Shed.
The meat factory itself is like a carnivore’s dream, with 4 walk-in dry-age fridges full of ribs and a huge meat fridge in the demo kitchen, where they host regular butchery classes. The demo kitchen is dotted with memorabilia from Aldens’ seven generations, including a beautiful shop sign from the original Covered Market shop, commissioned in 1938, a 1953 menu with prices, and a Penny Farthing – of all things – tucked away in a corner.
Looking to the future, Matthew wants to deliver the most perfect product from the right places, continue to invest back into the business, and would like to produce 95% of their energy from recycled and renewable sources, via the likes of solar panels, heat capture equipment. It sounds like one hell of a project, but judging by how far the business has come and how focused Matthew is, I wouldn’t put it past them.
If you haven’t ventured out to their Osney site yet, make a point of visiting their Meatmaster cash and carry butchers shop, their Osney Food Shed for “100 varieties of sea and freshwater fish stocked each day as well as lobsters, crab, scallops and muscles”, plus wine, sauces, veg and poultry, and don’t miss out on a visit to their upstairs concept fish restaurant. The restaurant opens Tuesday – Saturday 12noon – 3pm, and Fridays from 11.30am – 3pm, offering a mini menu of a few seasonal and freshly prepared mains for around £5/6 each, and featuring their popular ‘Fish & Chip Friday’ each week, which you can also take away from!
I must admit to having only learned of the restaurant recently myself, but Matthew treated me to a selection of samples from Chef Kuba during my visit, and I can safely say I’ll be back for more – full review to follow, of course!
For full details: aldenoxford.co.uk.
For details of their Meatmaster Cash & Carry: meatmaster.info
For details of their butchery courses: thebutcherskitchen.info
For details of Osney Food Shed: osneyfoodshed.co.uk