Konrad Kempka at the 70-year-old bacon slicer
PORK BUTCHERS SHOP F J KEMPKA & SON ON ABBEYDALE ROAD, SHEFFIELD, CELEBRATES ITS 60TH YEAR ON THE BLOCK
At first sight F J Kempka & Son’s butchers shop on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, could be a TV set designer’s recreation for a series set in the Sixties. The name is written in elegant flowing script across a red and white fascia conveying a subtle message: these are the national colours of Poland.
‘Pork Butchers’ it says underneath and, as if you need reassurance of the fact, there are sides of mahogany coloured just-smoked bacon hanging in the window, their residual warmth faintly misting the windows.
You walk though the doorway with its metal flyscreen and see the pork pies, coils of sausages, the old fashioned bacon slicer which, at 70 years, is older than the shop, pork chops, slabs of glistening liver and the faintly racy ‘I Give a Fork about My Pork’ poster on the wall and think, ‘This is how I want a butchers shop to look.’ It smells that way, too, with whiffs of woodsmoke and garlic in the air.
There’s a whiff of history in the series of faintly blurry black and white photographs on the walls. The butcher in the picture is Polish-born Joseph, a dark haired man with a look of concentration on his face as he strings a row of gleaming black sausages – perhaps just the ones he used to sling into the pannier on his cycle and pedal all the way to Thurgoland to sell to the Polish miners living there.
“When he took over the shop it was not doing well so he started smoking bacon and making Polish sausages and would cycle over in the afternoon with them. Even today, I get third generation families coming to buy them here,” says Konrad Kempka, the ‘& Son’ on the fascia.
This month sees the 60th anniversary of his father starting the business, hence those old photographs. It’s quite a story. Young Joseph, was a 17-year-old apprentice butcher when the German tanks rolled into his village, just 15 miles from Auschwitz. “They put everyone in a German uniform or shot them,” he adds drily.
The shop opened on 5 January, 1957
His father was sent to the Russian front then, when that was going badly, to France, where he, like others, escaped to join the Free Polish Army and fight in Italy. When the war was over he was given the choice, Canada or Britain. He found himself in a Polish camp at Hardwick Hall and while some went to work in the steelworks, he took up his old career as a butcher, working for Roneys on Sharrowvale Road, then for Cyril Rackham, who had a string of shops in the city. Dad worked at Heeley Green but when Rackham retired he sold him the shop on Abbeydale Road.
In the meantime Joseph had met a local girl called Jeanne at a dance at St William’s Church Hall on Ecclesall Road and married. With the Communists in charge in Poland there was no chance of going back.
As for Konrad, he ‘just fell into’ the butchery trade, from keeping watch on the shop to helping out his Dad. For a time it seemed he wouldn’t. At 21 he went to Los Angeles, working illegally as an engineer, but the pull of Sheffield was too strong. There wasn’t enough trade in the shop so he bought a lock-up butchers on Greystones Road, taking over when his father retired.
He’s seen some changes. “I probably sell less continental stuff these days but at one time we were the only people who sold garlic in Sheffield. Now garlic is in everything. And we sold buckets of sour cream, local people couldn’t believe it! And at Christmas we used to sell carp from Poland in blocks of ice. You couldn’t do that now.”
There are still reminders of the shop’s heritage. Kabanos, long, thin, smoked Polish sausage, are in the display counter, along with two types of Black Pudding, one English, one continental. The shelves are lined with jars of bockwurst, gherkins, sauerkraut and red peppers. In the window is a stack of Ukrainian loaves.
Konrad’s father Joseph – see the resemblance?
Kempka’s is still mainly a pork butcher although you can get chicken, lamb and beef. Oxtails will often hang in the windows along with magnificent home smoked hams, a fine sight at Christmas but available all year round. A Kempka’s pork pie is a wonderful thing, always praised when pork pie lovers swap recommendations, and among the biggest sellers, along with Konrad’s smoked bacon. I am, though, one of the few customers who ask for it still with the rind on. You can do a lot with a bacon rind!
He and his wife Pat, who helps in the shop, have noticed that customers have shied away from fatty pieces of meat, But that, we agree, is where the taste lies. “It will come back again,” he says. That is why he always buys bigger sides of pork to include the fat for, unlike some shops which buy in their sausages and bacon, they need it in the manufacture of products.
The shop has seen some 60 years. Konrad, at 63, and always a little hazy on dates, reckons he has done half that. But for how much longer will Kempka & Son keep going? Konrad, serving his second year as president of the Confederation of Yorkshire Butchers Councils, won’t be drawn.
Those of us who like their smoked bacon, a ham to boil at Christmas and a pork pie – ‘hold it upright as it’s still warm and not quite set’ – for tea or, as the poster says, give a fork about their pork, hope it will not be just yet.
352 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FP. Phone: 0114 255 1852
Smoked hams in the window at Christmas