It Runs in the Family

From father to daughter to grandson, Ralph’s Meat Market honours the past while embracing the future.

Watershed Magazine: Ralph’s Meat Market was founded in Picton in 1976 by your father, Ralph Irvine. Does your family have deep roots in the food business in the County?

April Brickell: My grandfather on my mother’s side was the founder of Cole Bros. Meat Processing here in the County. My father started his butcher journey in his early teens working in the family business. He ventured out on his own in 1976 with the opening of Ralph’s Meat Market.

Did you grow up helping in the shop or did you have another career before taking on Ralph’s?

I worked in health care here in the County in one of our local long-term care homes until it closed in 2012. Later, I purchased Elder Care Retirement Home in Bloomfield. But I always had a passion for cooking. My dad passed away suddenly in 2009. My son Wes had grown up in the business and it was his passion to hold the legacy by continuing Ralph’s. So now, Wes and I are partners in Ralph’s Meat Market, reopening it in April 2022, with an expansion and remodelling of the space.

Were Wes and your dad close?

My dad and Wes were very close. He would bring Wes to work with him when he was very young. Dad taught Wes the trade through the years, and it has been his dream to carry on the family tradition with Ralph’s Meat Market. His mannerisms, compassion and work ethic like none other are true signs of my dad. His dedication, attention to detail and overall skill make me happy every day and I’m sure my dad would be so proud of what Wes has accomplished.

You offer a great lineup of ready-to-go foods. Who’s the chef?

I’m the creator of our ready-to-go foods. We offer homestyle ready-to-go meals and frozen foods, all made in-house – cabbage rolls, meat pies, lasagna, soups – but I’d say our meatloaf and roast beef dinner are by far the fan favourites. Wes makes his own sausage too; he has developed a fantastic menu.

The photos on your Instagram feed are mouthwatering – talk about marbling! – is that Wagyu or just really great local beef? Do you carry any rare or hard-to-find meats?

It’s not Wagyu! We pride ourselves on offering the highest quality possible. We only purchase Ontario AAA Black Angus beef. Our beef has the perfect amount of marbling. And yes, we do offer rare and hard-to-find cuts that can only be found at a butcher shop; we also carry fresh rabbit.

You pride yourselves on offering humanely raised, locally sourced meats; why does that matter to you?

It is very important to us that we offer the best, humanely raised meats. Having our own store allows us to purchase products produced by farms that have smaller herds; that are pasture-raised without hormones and antibiotics; and that are processed at smaller abattoirs. Our chickens are raised in a free run, cage-free environment, without the use of hormones or steroids, and they’ve been fed a diet free of antibiotics. Our pork has also been raised on a vegetable and grain ration, again, without growth hormones; and our beef is grass fed and grain finished.

Why do you insist on local produce?

Locally sourced products and ingredients are picked in season and at their peak, making them more flavourful and nutritious. Also, supporting local producers and farmers means we can help Canadians stay in business and find stable jobs; it keeps our economy going and lets everyone thrive. Another thing that matters to us is that the locally sourced produce we choose is more often raised without pesticides, or packaged and processed without preservatives or other chemicals. Local food is just fresher and better!

Will Ralph’s be handed down to the next generation?

Wes now has two little boys and he hopes they will also have an interest in the family business. As for me, I don’t know that I will ever retire completely. I’m sure I will always give a helping hand in some way.

Story by:
Signe Langford

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