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Champion Angus butcher Alan Pirie hangs up his apron after 57 years in family business

James Pirie and Son
Alan Pirie outside the James Pirie and Son shop in Newtyle. Image: James Pirie and Son

He’s been a familiar face in the local community for nearly six decades, but after 57 years Alan Pirie has finally made the decision to hang up his apron and retire.

The 72-year-old, who has spent the majority of his career behind the counter at James Pirie & Son’s Newtyle butcher shop, will retire in the new year. He will officially hang up his apron when a buyer for the business is found.

Running the Angus-based company with his wife Norma has seen the butcher serve the local community at Newtyle for many years, with the duo experiencing great success.

Consumer appetite has changed

Alan was just 15 when he first stepped into his father James’ butchery shop, which was opened in 1960.

Throughout his time at the helm, the firm has been awarded 191 accolades and Alan has experienced everything from decimalisation, metrication, computerisation the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE Crisis) – also known as mad cow disease – and a global pandemic.

An older picture of Alan Pirie with a James Pirie and Son van. Image: James Pirie and Son

The business has received both national and global recognition, including Chris Evans tasting Pirie’s Scotch pies live on BBC Radio 2.

While he’s had a fulfilling 57 years with James Pirie and Son, Alan says the one thing that has continued to change dramatically over the years is consumer habits.

He recalls that in the 1960’s the only sausages made at the butcher were those made with beef. Very few beef burgers were eaten and a customer’s usual shopping list would consist of mince, brisket for making soup, beef for stewing and a family-sized steak pie. Very few chickens were sold.

Alan Pirie driving off in the work van. Image: James Pirie and Son

“At the start of my career the shop’s customer base was within the Newtyle village and neighbouring farms, and homes within a five mile radius were served by Pirie’s mobile shop,” he said.

“Nowadays deliveries are made from Callander to Montrose, and we have many customers in between. Further deliveries are also made by overnight carriers all over the UK and customers pop into the shop from all over Scotland now to sample our award-winning pies, haggis, sausages and more.”

Throughout the pandemic lockdowns the team launched a phone and collect service which ensured customers could still be supplied with their favourite products without leaving the safety of their cars. When they’d arrive, a member of the team would nip out with their orders and deliver them safely. This service has continued to bring loyal custom to the shop.

The business was also forced to think on its feet when the BSE crisis happened across the country. It’s sausage flavour offering went from two to 48 nearly overnight as a result.

Alan Pirie showing off his sausages. Image: James Pirie and Son

Alan has always been enthusiastic about innovative products and his lamb, apple, mint and rosemary sausages and twirls earned him his first awards in 1996.

Nowadays you’ll find a variety of sausages and burgers at the butcher with flavours including everything from spicy mango, lime and coconut, sweet chilli, Irn Bru, maple and chilli and pear and black pudding.

They also experimented with flavoured pork and lamb dishes early on when, at the same time, more women were in full-time employment and were eager to try oven-ready dishes and stir-fries.

Alan Pirie’s love of pies

Building on his reputation for award-winning sausages and pies, in recent years, Alan has laser-focused his attention on developing recipes to make some of the best pies over the years.

In 2000, Alan purchased the grocers shop next to the butchers on Church Street which Norma ran as a grocer’s and takeaway selling Pirie’s burgers and sausages.

A decade later they bought the Post Office and General Store in North Street. The grocer’s shop was then transformed into a bakery with a dedicated pie kitchen to make Pirie’s pies in-house.

Alan Pirie with Carol Smillie at the World Championship Scotsh Pie Competition. Image: James Pirie and Son

Pirie’s won the Scottish Bakers World Scotch Pie Championship in 2018 and 2020, the trophies awarded to Alan by TV presenter Carol Smillie, and in 2021, they took home the greatest accolade and ultimate highlight, World Scotch Pie Champion of Champions.

They also won the title of Best steak pie in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, and Best Speciality pie in Scotland for their steak, leek and horseradish version.

Famous face

If that wasn’t enough for Alan, the butchers’ has also been featured on screen three times.

The first was a documentary, then a drama about a dog who had to steal sausages from the shop, and, the premises was also featured in an episode of Dhani Jones Travels the Globe for an American travel channel. Alan fondly remembers when Dhani Jones, an American football player who played for Cincinnati Bengals, brought a 16-man film crew with him to learn how to make haggis.

As a result, Alan has been interviewed on the ITV sofa, and has featured on BBC, Sky, numerous newspapers and Canadian Radio.

Alan Pirie outside his shop in Newtyle. Image: James Pirie and Son

Alan said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my working life in the shop. I have met so many interesting people and discerning meat eaters from all over the UK and beyond.

“I will always be very grateful to our wonderfully loyal customer base, our suppliers and our excellent hard-working staff over the years.”

As Alan looks forward to spending more time playing the sports he loves and with his wife and grown-up children, he received a very special arrival at the weekend – his first grandchild was born.

He added: “There is still huge opportunity for someone with ambition, an eye for creative product development and knowing their customer to take the haggis and pie business to the next level. I am confident that Pirie’s products have an exciting future in the right hands.”

Alan is hopeful he can step aside early in 2023 and leave the business in good hands.