Much-loved Castle Road butcher hangs up his apron after 52 years

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L-R new owners of F Harris and Son butchers Alessandro Esposito and Zofia Jurkowska with Lisa Johnson and Bob Johnson who are retiring
L-R The new owners of F Harris & Son butchers Alessandro Esposito and Zofia Jurkowska with Lisa Johnson and Bob Johnson who are retiring

Bob the butcher, a much-loved and well-known Bedfordian, and the longest-serving shop worker on Castle Road has decided to hang up his apron after 52 years.

Bob Johnson, 66, started working for F Harris & Son in 1970 when he was 15-years-old.

During that time, he worked for two generations of the Harris family at the shop which opened on Castle Road in 1904, before buying the shop himself nine years ago.

He has run it ever since with his wife Lisa, who will both officially retire this Saturday (9 April). They say they’re sad to be leaving but are looking forward to the future.

“I’m looking forward to not getting up on the alarm,” said Bob, “I can turn the alarm clock off and get up when I want, have a nice breakfast and look forward to a day with Lisa.”

“We’re sad to be leaving,” says Lisa, “but it’s our time to be together now. We’re going to miss everyone. We’ve shared many of life’s good and bad times, especially in the last two years.”

“I’ve also got quite a lot of DIY and gardening jobs to do,” adds Bob, “which I haven’t done over the past nine years, plus we might go touring in the caravan and we have a holiday booked, retiring will take some getting used to.”

Customers have expressed their sadness at Bob and Lisa’s decision but have wished them well for the future.

On the shop’s Facebook page, one wrote “Castle Road definitely won’t be the same without you…”

“Time for a rest and new adventures. Enjoy it all,” said another.

Some even had memories of when Bob started working at the shop. “I remember when my dad delivered your Danish Bacon back in the late 70’s. My mum always made sure we had your chipolatas for Christmas day too.”

The shop will stay open

While Bob and Lisa may be moving on, the shop is staying where it is under the new guardianship of Alessandro Esposito and Zofia Jurkowska who already own three businesses in the area.

l-r Alessandro Esposito, Zofia Jurkowska, Lisa Johnson and Bob Johnson
l-r Alessandro Esposito, Zofia Jurkowska, Lisa Johnson and Bob Johnson

“We’re keeping it as a traditional butcher,” said Alessandro, “but we want to adapt and evolve, so while you will still have a traditional English butchers, we’ll also sell Italian and Polish products too.”

They say their idea is that they want to create a representation of Bedford’s communities so everyone can get what they love at the shop.

“We want to provide traditional butchers for English, Italian and Polish communities,” says Zofia, “we also want to provide quality.”

Alessandro says he’s looking forward to getting stuck in and doesn’t seem phased at taking on a service that is considered sacred to many English people.

“Bob has given me training and shown me traditional English butchery, we want to preserve the business for this area as we have with the bakery, deli and restaurant.”

“Many people won’t notice a difference,” he says, “we won’t even be changing the name.”

Listening to their plans for F Harris and Son, Bob says he knows the shop is in good hands and hopes local people will give Alessandro and Zofia the same support they gave him and Lisa.

“Local people need to support local business. We survived the pandemic because people used us, and we need more residents to support more local businesses rather than shop online,’ he says.

In a notice put up in their shop, Lisa and Bob both added, “we wish them [Alessandro and Zofia] every success and we hope you [local people] will support them as they continue to provide a family butchers shop for the Castle area and the wider community of Bedford.”

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