Man who runs village smokehouse out of a shed vows to grow the business with just his wife’s help

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Phil Hartshorne, who runs the Staithe Smokehouse, in Brancaster Staithe, in Norfolk, England, says he loves what he does and would only want his wife’s help going forward.

It started during the 20th century with a man named Paul Letzer. He started smoking fish locally until his death. The business was then handed over to his son, Simon.

But 12 months ago, Simon wanted to sell up and move to Scotland to take up his passion of fishing.

Mr Hartshorne came to the rescue shortly after when he heard the business may close down for good. At the time, he was working as a barman in the front pub and had been smoking fish as a hobby.

Change
He told Salmon Business: “We sat down, I wanted a change, and I went to work with him for two months, and he showed us the way: looking at the fin, the meat, the oil etc.”

“I approached the owner of the pub and from there we had two small smokehouses built, a little shop was built, and from there it grew.”

He added: “I’m located behind a pub. What used to be a maintenance shed, I’ve taken half of that and turned it into my kitchen, and we’ve had a small shop built at the front. And two brick smokehouses made up for me.”

Staithe Smokehouse salmon Photo: Staithe Smokehouse

The business gets the majority of its salmon from Scotland, with a very small portion coming from Norway.

Mr Hartshorne said: “We get the salmon coming in. We salt the salmon for 12 hours. We then hand wash them.”

“We hang them in our smokehouse for about an hour. And from there, depending on the temperature, we either use oak sawdust or oak shavings or a mix of the two.”

Like many smokehouses, the weather has been a challenge for Staithe.

He said: “Because we’re cold smoking you’ve got to keep it between forty and thirty degrees. But it can’t be a hot direct 30 degrees. A shady sort of 30 degrees. If it’s 25 degrees outside, you want to add 10 to 15 degrees in the smokehouse. If you then go over your 30 degrees, the salmon turns to mush. It’s neither cooked nor smoked, it’s mushed. We have two smokehouses: the left one burns quicker than the right one. So, we’ve learnt what type of fish we can put in it.”

Growth and his wife’s help
But despite this, Mr Hartshorne vows to continuing growing the business, but in a traditional way with the same style and method.

Mr Hartshorne said: “We’ll grow with more professional packaging, but the style we do now will not change. We have great feedback about our smoked products and our salmon. We are slowly growing, and I’d like to keep the Artisan style.”

Phil and his wife outside Staithe Smokehouse Photo: Staithe Smokehouse

He says if he reaches a certain point of growth, he may want to hire someone from the village, but he’s more likely to just seek his wife’s help.

He said: “My wife is the head chef at the pub. She’s got a nice steady hand, and she slices the salmon for me.”

“Apart from that it’s just me. I enjoy it. My wife helps out. We work long hours. We do delivery days on a Thursday. I enjoy it. I enjoy being busy. I love what I do. I love the smoking part, packing it away.”

“One day, we should be big enough that my wife can give up the chef job and come and work with me full time. Or someone local in the village can come and work with us. I am primarily by myself. I always feel humble when someone says how lovely the salmon is.”

“We care. Through the summer time, we were smoking at 6 o’clock at night, coming back in at 2 or 3 in the morning and then back in at 6 o’ clock. Just to look at the temperature, make sure they were coming along. It’s enjoyable. It’s your business so you put your time into it.”