Customer service from the curate behind the counter

AN ordained minister has taken over the role of head butcher at Thomas the Baker's new Helmsley delicatessen – Thomas of Helmsley – swapping church services for sirloins and christenings for cutlets.

Ben Nicholson will be combining his role as assistant curate at Helmsley church with his new job as Meat Development Manager at Thomas of Helmsley (formerly Pern's). And he's already very familiar with his surroundings.

Ben was only two when he and his family moved into the very same building to live with his grandparents, who owned the original butcher's shop downstairs.

He remembers helping his grandmother make sausages, travelling in the delivery vans and, eventually, working at Pern's – all the while helping out at the local church and training for the ministry with a learn-at-home course.

"I love being back at the shop and I think the customers like the fact I am a familiar face – though there has been some funny reactions if I happen to be wearing my dog collar!" says Ben, who's responsible for taking services, weddings and christenings at the church.

"It's great to be able to link the community together through the church and Thomas of Helmsley.

"My father taught me that the secrets of a successful butcher are good skills, good old-fashioned service and, above all, an interest and passion for what you're doing. I'm hoping to bring all that to the butcher's block at Thomas of Helmsley."

While Ben says he didn't have a "calling" to the ministry it was "a subtle nudge in the right direction".

Five years ago, when his dad sold the family business and retired, Ben continued to work for the new owners, Pern's of Helmsley, and began a distance-learning course to train for the ministry.

"I'd always been involved with the church and then the vicar asked me to become a churchwarden. I loved it and wanted to become even more involved but wasn't sure how," he says. "Now, it's wonderful to be able to play such a big part in the community through my two roles and help set up community links with the church."

And Ben is already getting stuck into his second calling – recipes. "I love devising recipes from scratch – especially as all the wonderful meat for the shop is farmed locally. Everything else – from the pates to the pies – is produced in the back kitchen, and my main focus over the coming months will be developing a new delicious range of ready meals.

Ben's sausages, made to an old family recipe, were under the spotlight recently, when they were a regional finalist in Britain's Star Sausage competition judged by Craig Revel Horwood – the Strictly Come Dancing judge renowned for not mincing his words.

"I like to personally visit all the farms to select the meat," he says. "Everything else we produce is made in the kitchen at the back of the shop."