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From Safeway to Selfridges: Meet the family bringing a taste of the farmers’ market to Aberdeen city centre

A cut above: Julie Haig and her husband James have built up their food hall from scratch. Photo by Wullie Marr, DC Thomson.
A cut above: Julie Haig and her husband James have built up their food hall from scratch. Photo by Wullie Marr, DC Thomson.

As bright and twinkly as the fairy lights that adorn the front of the family business, Julie Haig has a presence that will light up any room.

Kind eyes sparkling as she fondly talks about Anne, the little old lady who pops her head in the door for a good yap every day, Julie’s motherly nature is part of the reason why customers – who she likens to extended family – keep coming back to Haig’s Food Hall.

Self-confessed workaholics and devoted parents and grandparents, Julie and her husband James have spent the last 10 years putting every last ounce of themselves into their beloved Schoolhill shop which specialises in fresh meat – made in the butchery upstairs – fresh fruit, vegetables, bakery and pies.

Cutting edge: Julie Haig and her husband James have created not just a food hall but a community hub in the heart of the city.

“James is in the shop from 5am every morning, he gets a Sunday off, that’s the only day he takes off,” says Julie, 48.

“He’s here most days overseeing everything and that’s the way it’s been for the last 10 years.”

Blood, sweat and plenty of tears, the story behind Julie and James’ success with Haig’s is an inspiring one which began at Safeway in King Street many moons ago.

“I met James when he was the butchery manager at Safeway and I worked in an office,” explains Julie.

“At the time we just felt there wasn’t any potential for our careers here so we moved to London when I was 25 and he was 28.

“It was a massive step and I was worried sick but we went to London and he managed a Q Guild butchery in St John’s Wood.

“James was serving people like Patsy Kensit, Liam Gallager, Chris Moyles, that was the normal customers and they were spending a fortune on meat.”

Raising the steaks: All the meat at Haig’s Food Hall is made at the butchery upstairs.

High end clients

With his raw passion and razor-sharp focus, James was soon at the cutting edge of the industry as he moved into senior management roles at organic meat companies throughout the UK.

“He worked for a company called Daylesford Organic in Staffordshire who were supplying places like Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, Claridges, Gordon Ramsay and Chelsea Football Club, it was all high-end clients.”

Life for the couple then took a different direction in 2007.

“In 2007 Daylesford Organic decided to close the factory that James was running as they were going to move everything to a different location in Gloucester,” says Julie who worked remotely as a broadcast monitor while caring for the couple’s eldest two children.

“At that point, I felt that we’d moved around far too much so he ended up taking redundancy and started up his own business.”

Hot stuff: Everything is freshly prepared on-site.

Dream come true

Fulfilling a life-long ambition, James opened Haig’s Food Hall in Coventry.

“I was keen to move back to Aberdeen but we couldn’t find a suitable premises so we ended up finding one in Coventry which was only an hour away from where we lived at the time,” says Julie.

A year and a half later, Julie became James’s right-hand woman in the business after she was made redundant from her job.

“After I was made redundant I went to work in the shop and managed the accounts and admin work,” says Julie.

“I also helped out on the shop floor and I really enjoyed meeting the customers.”

I feel like chicken tonight: The chicken is all marinated on the premises.

Sizzling success

A short time later the couple welcomed their third child Jamie into the world.

“Jamie went into childcare from 10 weeks old because I had to go back to work as with your own business you have no choice,” says Julie.”

All the hard work and sacrifices paid off as customers were soon travelling from far and wide to sample the couple’s Scotch pies and Scotch beef.

But after five years, James got itchy feet again and decided he wanted to expand.

“James had this vision that he wanted to get a shop and go fully pre-packed so the butchery is all done in a controlled environment and we’re eliminating cross contamination, just like what the supermarkets do but it’s proper butchery products,” says Julie.

Heart of the community: Haig’s Food Hall is popular with people of all ages.

From Coventry to the Granite City

Happy to support her husband in his new venture, Julie had only one condition, that they move back to Aberdeen.

With a stroke of luck, the couple found the perfect premises in the form of the former Peckham’s shop in Schoolhill.

“When we looked at the site James thought it had massive potential as it’s in the right location, it’s a big shop, it was about 20 times the size of the shop we had.

“I don’t think I was quite prepared for what we were in for as we were just so excited to be moving back to Aberdeen to be close to family again.”

Taste of success: The shelves of Haig’s Food Hall are brimming with local produce.

Shutting up their Coventry shop in December 2011, the couple loaded their equipment on a hire truck and made the big move back home to their beloved Granite City.

Determined to make the shop a success, the couple worked round the clock over the next few months before opening in April 2012.

“We done the refit in two months, we were all painting and cleaning – it was some task,” says Julie.

Freshly prepared on site

Perseverance paid off as the couple created a beautiful shop with an onsite butchery, bakery and shelves brimming with Fruit & Veg, many artisan and local produce.

“It’s like a farm shop in the middle of the city centre,” says Julie.

“We use Scotch beef and our steaks are really popular.

“We also do loads of flavoured marinated chicken and we make all our own sausages, mince and burgers.

“We also make up fresh meals like lasagna which can be taken home and heated up.”

Foodie heaven: The shelves are brimming with fresh produce.

There’s also a cafe area, an alcohol section and freshly prepared hot food to take away.

One step ahead, the couple have also been providing a mobile delivery service long before Covid came along.

Using their business to help those in need is also very important to the couple as they already donate any extra food to The Care Hub an initiative that supports vulnerable people in the community.

Looking to the future, James is keen to take that one step further with plans in the pipeline to create a soup kitchen to support those in need.

For now though Julie, James are continuing to live their dream through Haig’s Food Hall with support from their grown-up children Erin, 27, Rachel, 20 and Jamie 13.

“We just love it and we enjoy meeting all the customers who come in,” says Julie.

“It’s all been worth it.”

For more information about Haig’s check out their website or Facebook page.

A round of questions with Julie Haig

Warm welcome: Julie Haig and her husband James love chatting to the customers who pop into the shop.

 What’s your favourite food and drink pairing?

Steak and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I know most people drink red wine with their steaks but I’m not a fan of red wine.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

A bottle of champagne because I work away quietly in the background but when the party starts I pop. I’m also a very bubbly person and a positive thinker.

Most unusual food you’ve tried?

Smoked wood pigeon, it was disgusting. It was very chewy so I really didn’t enjoy it.

What’s the most underrated food?

Macaroni and cheese. We make our own in the shop and we make it really cheesy. It’s very popular with the school kids.

What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?

Everything as we converted our garage into a bar. It also has a darts board, karaoke machine and a hot tub.

What’s in your fridge at home?

We always have milk, eggs, cheese and lots of Haig’s products like our chicken, mince, pies and our ready meals.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?

Water, tea and Sauvignon Blanc.

You have to make a meal to represent Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire. What would that be?

Aberdeen Angus Rib Roast carved rare with roasted local veg, skirlie with a nice rich gravy and a spoonful of local honey to give it a sweetness as well as homemade Yorkshire pudding.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity. Who is it and what do you serve?

Tom Hardy and I would serve him a roll and lorne sausage with Stornoway black pudding.

Tell us a secret trick of the trade?

Engage in conversation with every single customer if possible and understand why they are in your shop so you can help them in the best possible way.