Coneybeares keep butcher business in family
By Sue Tiffin
Published Dec. 24, 2018
On April 2, 1946, Morgan Prentice purchased a sirloin steak for 60 cents, and some beef for $1.10, from Harry Easton, butcher, according to yellowing receipts that are now more than 70 years old.
The price of meat is quite different nowadays and Coneybeare’s Butcher Shop, the shop behind Minden’s main street, serves the public from an addition on the original building.
But Harry Easton would likely be proud to know the business he started after arriving to the area from England in the 1940s is not just still standing in the same place, but thriving as it changes hands from his great grandson Chris Coneybeare to his great, great granddaughter, Chris’s daughter Lily.
Chris has changed too, looking a bit different than his 1980s self, when he returned from college in Toronto to help his dad, Al (Cub) Coneybeare and grandfather Bill Coneybeare. Thirty-two years later, he’s ready to retire alongside his wife, retired teacher Michele, and pass the business to the next generation – the fifth generation to own the butcher shop.
Harry owned the main street space as well as a slaughterhouse that was on what is now known as Colonial Road off of South Lake Road.
In those early days, beef would be picked up off the train in Gelert, taken to the slaughterhouse for preparation and then to the downtown shop to be sold.
His two sons, Lance Easton and Bill Coneybeare, learned from Harry.
Eventually the business was taken from a butcher shop to a full-fledged store, known as the Minden Red and White, which was opened in the 1950s for almost 30 years. After Easton’s Valumart opened on the highway, Chris’s dad Al kept the butcher shop open with main street frontage while severing the building to house a Beckers in the ’80s.
“I came back [from Toronto] and learned from my dad and my grandfather how to cut meat,” said Chris. “I’ve never had any formal training or anything. It’s all been passed down over generations.”
It was Chris who added the addition on to the back of the building, where Coneybeare’s remains a busy place with a famous reputation for quality meat.
“When I first started before I had this addition back here, this room, it was just sort of my grandfather and I cutting farmers’ beef, and cutting deer and moose and all of that kind of stuff, and wholesale orders to restaurants and stuff like that,” said Chris. “Then I decided to put in the retail space. But, just spending time with my grandfather, he’s wrapping, I’m cutting, he’s wrapping, I’m cutting ... [those are] memories I’ll always have.”
Now, he’s having those same experiences with his daughter, Lily, the fifth generation in their family to be involved in the business.
After earning a degree in chemistry, Lily was working as head brewer at Boshkung Brewing Co. when her dad began to discuss his retirement and a succession plan.
"This opportunity opened up and I figured if I’m working for a small business I might as well be working for my own,” she said. Though perhaps the role is one that’s not traditional for women, that doesn’t matter much to Lily.
“I’ve never been shy to work hard or shy to do any task, so I’m just jumping in,” she said.
Lily said she didn’t ever feel any pressure to take the butcher shop on, but had always been interested in the family’s business.
“I just know I love the area, and I know I love to live here, and I never wanted the business to leave the family, that was always very important to me, that it stay within our name,” she said. “Just, the generational thing. The trade itself is something that’s maybe not dying, but there’s not a lot of skilled butchers anymore, maybe. So I just thought, I wanted to learn the skill, and I wanted to know everything that my dad knows eventually and can carry it on.”
“I think it’s really cool that we’re carrying on the name,” she said. “It’s such a small town feel because even since I’ve started working here, so many people know me by name now already, just because I’m here. At first when I was started I was worried, because you’re worried that when you have a business, that it won’t carry on, because my dad is the face of the business. But people have pretty well accepted, I think because I’m family, that I’m the next generation and I’m going to do the same thing that he’s done, keep the quality the same and everything.”
Lily said she’s interested in the idea of craft butcher shops as well, noting that some shops in the city do dry aging and specialty work.
“I just like that it’s a small business and you can kind of take it where you want to take it,” she said. “We don’t do anything like that right now, but there’s definitely lots of room to play around and make it your own.”
As for the shop, Lily is not making any drastic changes to the store, but has added a few unique touches inside.
“A few small changes ... I’ve got ideas,” she laughed, alongside her dad. “I just wait until he travels and then I start putting pictures up and painting, adding my own touch to it for sure.”
Coneybeare’s Butcher Shop is developing an online presence with a new website and social media pages, which Lily laughed brings the shop, “into the 21st century.”
Like many businesses in the county, Chris said learning how to live with the seasonal highs and lows can be a challenge, but the butcher shop has endured.
“It’s been good,” he said. “It’s like any business in Haliburton, you work your butt off in the summer, and in the winter you can go a lot easier. It’s very self-rewarding in the summertime when people are lined up out the door, it’s really hectic and crazy. Well, we’re doing something right, you know?