Many believe Anthony Puharich is the mastermind behind one of the world’s most extravagant butcheries.
They wouldn’t be wrong. But Victor Churchill is built upon many more bricks. Family, heritage, dedication and one hell of an interior designer has seen Puharich transform the way Australians enjoy the most luxurious cuts of meat this country has ever produced.
We sat down with this week’s Man About Town to chat about his quest to convert the world’s vegans, his $11,000 peacoat and how ditching a career in finance was the best decision he’d ever made.
“I’m not naive or arrogant enough to disregard that something as ambitious as we did carries a significant risk.”
MH: You come from a family of butchers. Was entering the meat industry always going to be part of your life?
AP: I started my career with a degree in finance so my entry into the meat industry was pretty random. I come from a very blue collar upbringing. My father is a fourth generation butcher who has passionately dedicated fifty years of his life to butchery. Same with my grandfather and my great grandfather, so butchery goes back a few generations in my family.
MH: Tell us about the early days.
AP: My father immigrated to Australia in the late 60’s, didn’t know a word of English and didn’t have any skills other than an incredible work ethic. Like all parents, he wanted his kids to have a good education, so the funny thing is, my father didn’t want me to follow in his footsteps in a lot of respects.
He wanted me to get an education and have a better sort of life, because butchery is fucking tough man; long hours, early starts and very labour intensive. So I went to school and he put me through University, I finished with a finance and commerce degree, went into banking, and to be honest with you, I loved it.
I was the first person in my family to graduate with a degree, to go to work in a suit and tie. But about ten months into it, something didn’t feel right. I put it down to the fact that butchery must just be in my blood. I approached my dad and said let’s go into business together, and the rest is history.
MH: What set that off?
AP: I was in my early twenties, and even though my father would start at two o’clock in the morning and I wouldn’t finish until five at night, they would still wait for me to get home so we could have dinner together.
So over the dining table I said to my Dad, “you know what Dad? I love what I’m doing but it doesn’t feel right and I want to work with you and I want to go into butchery.”
My dad nearly had a heart attack. He thought I was crazy because he put me through a degree and gave me an education, but deep down I knew he was really proud that the tradition was going to continue. Nineteen years on we have an incredibly successful family business and we employ two hundred and twenty people. It’s an amazing thing.
MH: Your relationship with dad must be good?
AP: My dad and I have an amazing and unique relationship. I love him and respect him but he’s also my business partner.
MH: What does it take to sell premium produce to high-end restaurants across Australia and Asia?
AP: When it comes to selling meat, it takes passion, hard work, [and] a lot of dedication. It requires good relationships and our suppliers are crucial to our success, so we align ourselves with the best farmers in Australia. You can’t have a great reputation and make all those customers happy if you don’t have good product.
MH: Any famous faces you’ve sold to?
AP: Where do I start? At Victor Churchill you’re talking about Hugh Jackman, Orlando Bloom, Tina Arena, Pat Rafter, Jimmy Barnes and even Oprah has visited the store. It’s pretty epic. I reckon I’ve converted a good couple of dozen vegans over the years.
“Celebrity butchery is kind of uncomfortable, but it is what it is. If i’m shining a spotlight on the craft of butchery and its incredible history, then I’m very proud and I’ve done my job.”
MH: Where did you get the inspiration to merge luxury design and butchery?
AP: I’m not going to lie about the fact that we have a successful business and we’re doing well, and that has afforded me, which I’m really grateful for, the opportunity to travel the world.
My inspiration for Victor Churchill has come from just that. Victor Churchill has given me the opportunity to use all my experiences and things I’ve seen to create what we’ve done there.
MH: Do you think this is the new way of doing business in a traditional industry?
AP: The world moves quickly and things are changing all the time. People are more fickle so you to have to use different strategies and techniques.
You have to be more savvy and think outside of the square, you need to look at your business, your industry and what you’re doing through different lenses and from different angles so you can create that point of difference.
We’ve always considered ourselves to be a very innovative and dynamic business, a business that is always ahead of the game. Celebrity butchery is kind of uncomfortable, but it is what it is. If i’m shining a spotlight on the craft of butchery and its incredible history, then I’m very proud and I’ve done my job.
MH: Did you ever have doubts about the direction you were taking the business in the past?
AP: I’m not naive or arrogant enough to disregard that something as ambitious as we did carries a significant risk.
It’s unheard of to spend the sort of money we did on the shop, to create an experience like what we’ve done. I was very conscious from the outset that it may not have worked or resonated with people. But I believed in what we were doing. I believed in our product, in our service and the experience we were offering. I was confident, but I wasn’t arrogant.
MH: What’s the coolest thing in your closet?
AP: As awkward as this might sound, I am a bit of a fashion tragic. I do like the finer things in life and quality resonates with me, so I do have an eye for detail. The most expensive thing in my wardrobe is probably a cashmere Tom Ford peacoat that Daniel Craig wore in a Skyfall.
From what I was told there was only a dozen of them made, so I bought one of them and it was about US$11,000. It’s out there, but it’s timeless and it will be part of my wardrobe forever. I love what Tom Ford does and I love his suits. I also love the edgy streetwear style of Rick Owens and Balmain jeans. I’m not over the top and quite conservative with my fashion sense, but I pick my key pieces.
MH: We’ve also heard you have quite the car collection.
AP: I’ve got a few weaknesses. Over the years I’ve owned my fair share of Porsches and a couple of Ferraris, an Aston Martin, all those desirable sports cars. I’ve got a Mercedes G-Wagen – a G65, before that even became cool.
My real Achilles heel when it comes to cars though is Nissans, particularly the GTR. I can buy any sports car in the world but I respect the GTR and I love its history, tradition, engineering and quality.
MH: That’s a pretty formidable list. Naturally, we’d ask you what is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
AP: Listen to others. Being a great businessman doesn’t mean you need to go it alone. Stop being scared and just jump. What makes a great businessman is not knowing everything about business, but being passionate and feeling it.
MH: You should be a motivational speaker.
AP: That’s some of my best work ever, Mike.
MH: What would you do if your son told you he didn’t want to be a butcher?
AP: I’ve got three kids, two of them are boys. What my parents did for me, I’ll be grateful for and I’ll never forget. I’m trying to do the same for my kids, I want my kids to do whatever they want in life, based on what they’re passionate about and what they love.
However, should they decide to get into the business, I’ll welcome them with open arms. There’s no free ride though, they’ll need to learn the business from the bottom and work their way up.
MH: Finally, you’ve already got your own television show and mobile app. What’s next?
AP: I’m currently writing a book, literally a bible on meat which is coming out in a year or so. It’s an awesome experience and opportunity, but I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and make sure what we do as a business is relevant, and that people still love what we do.
I want to make sure that we’re engaging with our customers, and improving the range and experience we offer. We need to keep moving the goalposts.
Photographed exclusively for D’Marge – No reproduction without written permission.