How his beef with a top chef gave Peter Hannan's firm a big boost
Peter Hannan tells John Mulgrew how a frank exchange led to a successful and long-running partnership.
Peter Hannan's big beef relationship with one of the UK's top chefs started out after he told the Michelin-starred cook that his steaks simply weren't up to scratch.
Since then, he has enjoyed a long bond with Mark Hix, a chef after his own heart who runs eight top eateries throughout England - each of which is fuelled by Himalayan salt-aged beef from Moira in Co Down. And over lunch at Ginger Bistro, the 54-year-old businessman and 'meat merchant' says while his business is turning over around £10m a year - and trade is booming - it's not all about volume.
Kicking off with a raft of freshly baked bread, tapenade and sharp and salty olives, Peter talks about the strong business links he's formed with restaurants in Northern Ireland - some of which he has had a relationship with spanning three decades - along with iconic top-end retailers such as Fortnum and Mason.
His reputation for the high-end of his meat empire grew legs around six years ago, during a frank encounter with the multi-Michelin-starred Mark Hix outside his London chop house eatery.
"I said, you've a lovely restaurant, but your steaks aren't very good," Peter explained.
"You asked me a very straight question (about the meal) and I gave you a very straight answer."
He then invited the Englishman over to Northern Ireland to try his beef, and the long-running partnership was forged.
And Peter Hannan has said that luxury London department store Fortnum and Mason's beef sales have rocketed 10-fold after taking on his meat.
Over Ginger Bistro's classic fish pie and my fresh and crunchy tempura asparagus salad, the businessman talks about how his current business first got under way in 1989, when he made the move to Northern Ireland from the Republic.
Now, the Meat Merchant shop at his Moira base sees hundreds of hungry foodies flocking to the weekend stop in search of top quality beef and pork.
It's very much a labour of love, the meat business.
The grand salt chambers house tonnes of Peter Hannan's top of the line beef, some of which sits in pink-walled rooms for up to 90 days.
And it took some serious toil to get the huge chunks of Himalayan salt to Co Down - first put on the wrong ship, ending up in Dubai, and then being held at customs under suspicion that it was a shipment of drugs.
Peter has a 21-year-old son, Richard, from his first marriage, and also has two young girls, Kasia (7) and Grace (5) with his partner, Shirley.
And as a double espresso arrives to finish off the light lunch for me, sipping his Suki tea, the Co Kildare man says the meat business has had its ups and downs over the years.
"It's been good to us, but we've suffered everything from BSE, foot and mouth, and hijackings," he said.
"But whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."
Next week, Joris Minne meets Colin Davidson
Ginger Bistro, Belfast
Asparagus tempura salad: £6.50
Double espresso: £2.25
Fish pie: £9.00
Sparkling water: £2.25
Breakfast tea: £2.10