Grow Exeter | Sep 17, 2018 | 0
Steve Williams – Passion and Personality
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photography by Nick Hook
I believe that every location – be it a city, town, village or even an open natural space – has its own vibe. It’s hard to explain this belief in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m smoking something other than tobacco but, nevertheless, I’ll try.
Take Topsham for example. As you drive in, you feel certain things. It seems affluent. It feels relaxed. It is aesthetically idyllic. It feels like a community. No location or community is perfect of course, but Topsham is the mesmeric sort of town that, when you have spent some time there, you leave feeling different to when you arrived.
So, as I sat on the edge of the Quay in the warmth of the mid-morning sun, I shut my eyes and metaphorically drank in all that Topsham could offer. I was twenty minutes early for a chat over breakfast with Steve Williams, Topsham local and co-owner of the amazing Pig & Pallet in Topsham as well as the ethically-centred meat company Good Game. He and his business partner Pete Woodham-Kay have just taken on their first pub venture too, The Globe Inn, Lympstone which opened a matter of weeks ago.
I was with photographer Nick Hook, also a Topshamite, who had recommended both Steve and the Pig & Pallet to me on several occasions. This, somewhat embarrassingly, was my first foray to the restaurant and, for reasons that will soon become obvious, I will certainly be returning.
If high-quality, ethically sourced food is what you’re after, The P&P is your place to go. If a hilarious, quirky approach to business is your thing, likewise. I could have spent a whole day chatting with Steve (and eating his food!) without any complaint whatsoever. Before I tell you any more about my experience though, how’s about a little history…
Steve carved out a very successful twenty-year career in corporate recruitment and met Pete (now his business partner) on a motoring holiday from Topsham to Morocco, along with long-time friend Jim Kingston, the owner of Topsham Wines. In a £100 burgundy Vauxhall Cavalier, emblazoned with ‘Tom Jones is God’ down the side, they embarked on a 1600-mile trip, blasting Tom Jones tunes at full volume all the way. This was the first of several indications to me that Steve and Pete are frikkin’ funny dudes!
After living and working around Topsham for some time, when he returned from the Morocco trip, Steve spent five years living and working in the Middle East. He would come back to visit Topsham from time to time and missed it like crazy but it was back in the Middle East, in his apartment in Dubai, that Steve described having an epiphany moment. Sat in his lounge with his wife and his dog, on a Saturday afternoon (the Middle-Eastern equivalent to our Sunday afternoon) he was watching a show about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, called ‘A Cook on The Wild Side’. Steve started talking to his dog, saying
“I used to do this sort of thing with Pete. Out and about with our guns, shooting crows and rabbits.”
The thought suddenly dawned on him that, ‘What was he doing in 45° heat, sitting in a bungalow twenty feet away from an 18-lane highway, watching someone else live out the life that he actually wanted, on TV?’.
Overnight, he and his wife Willow made the decision that it was time to go back home to Topsham and they did, about six months later, with a new sense of purpose and a spring in their step. Upon returning, Steve and Pete re-kindled their bromance and started getting up to their same old tricks again; going out shooting, buying old bangers and tinkering with them. Typical ‘boys with their toys’ sort of things. Also, they set up what is now Good Game, making a range of charcuterie and beginning to go to farmers markets and food shows to sell their wares. The business was based out of Steve’s garage and went from strength to strength, hiring their first part-time employee, Dennis Colborn. Dennis is an expert butcher who started his career at the age of fourteen and moved around the UK during his career. In Steve’s words,
“Dennis knows everything there is to know about meat. His son Rich joined the business full-time as a butcher fairly early on and, in fact, Rich’s son Liam now works as a chef at the Pig and Pallet, so there are three generations of the Colborn family working within our businesses now.”
Such has been the success of Good Game, that they moved into their first proper premises about a year ago opposite Darts Farm. They have achieved some important accreditations recently too, allowing them to officially brand themselves as organic as well as allowing them to sell their meat to larger organisations.
In fact, The Pig & Pallet restaurant only came about as a side-product of the excellent reputation that Good Game was earning itself. The building where the restaurant is was originally meant to be a shop/deli where the team could sell their meat from. Customers started regularly asking if they could eat some of the food, so they started cooking small batches of particular products. Before long, it became obvious that there was a growing demand for their food, cooked and served on-premises, so the shop space slowly diminished and the restaurant space slowly grew. It has now become a beacon of foodie-light, glowing in the already impressive and rich food & drink scene of the area. With nitrate and nitrite free meat, a well-assembled Barbecue-based menu and a beautifully-relaxed customer service approach, eating at the Pig & Pallet was a real treat for me.
Having not eaten so far that day, I attempted to tame my hard-working salivary glands as I awaited my order; the Mega Lush Breakie Bap (containing 4 smoked sausages, black pudding, hash brown, egg and ‘King Bacon’; the thickest bacon I have ever eaten) which I promptly polished off and washed down with a solid filter coffee.
The meat tasted different to any meat I have ever eaten; a common piece of feedback for the Good Game team, as their curing and smoking process is based on how meat should be made, not what chemicals will keep it fresh for the longest on a supermarket shelf. When asked how the market responded to such a different taste experience, Steve said,
“We commonly get people from older generations eating in our restaurant. I have come to recognise the blissful, almost day-dreamy look that they get in their eyes as they taste meat the way it used to be cooked before it was mass-produced for a global market. Our meat is far from the cheapest on the market.”
This demonstrated one value of Steve’s that really stood out to me; his desire to not do things the way that other people do them (or at least not just for that reason). He described his focus on making all of the company’s communications, both internal and external, unique and in ‘their own tone of voice’. In their case, that means slightly sarcastic, straight-talking and very funny!
Now employing over thirty people, Good Game and The Pig & Pallet are clearly doing many things right and are going from strength to strength. Built on a solid foundation of good ethics, healthy ambition, a sense of humour and truly excellent products, I can only see things getting better for them, particularly as they have just taken over The Globe Inn in Lympstone (a decision made and executed within a matter of weeks when they found out that the opportunity was there).
So, Steve, Pete and the team, #TeamGrow and I wish you all the very best. Good game boys. Good game.