Greek’s Meats loses new owner

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Gary MacNeil, who took over the ownership of Bridgewater&#8217;s Greek&#8217;s Meats in February of this year, has passed away at the age of 60.</p>

Gary MacNeil, who took over the ownership of Bridgewater's historic V.S. Greek Quality Meats in February, has died.

The business announced his death on its Facebook page July 19.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our owner, Gary MacNeil. The MacNeil family wants to assure all customers that we are committed to keeping Gary's vision for Greek's Quality Meats alive and that you can continue to expect the same incredible product and service from the team."

The post noted that "out of respect" the store would be closed on July 23.

The news comes as shock and sadness to this reporter who interviewed MacNeil at his new-to-him business shortly after he took over the renowned family-run butchery that dates back to the 1940s.

I was struck by his eagerness to enter a new phase in his life, and his willingness and eagerness to try something different if it meant he could return and prosper in his home town.

MacNeil was born and raised in Bridgewater, but spent a number of number of years in his career shuttling between Nova Scotia and Alberta.

In 2012, he ran for mayor of his home town, while a good portion of his working life was in the oil and gas industry, both as a business owner and a high-ranking employee.

He was in Calgary when the latest downturn in the oil and gas industry hit, and decided to set his sights firmly back on Bridgewater for his twilight working years before retirement.

He was in conversation with Richard Greek, whose father, Victor, started the company, before he had even arrived back on Nova Scotia soil.

"I gave Richard [Greek] a phone call and just said, 'If you ever happen to want to sell, and there's nobody in the family that wants to take it over, I would appreciate being your first call,"' MacNeil told me this winter.

"I just thought it was a well-established business and something that I could learn. And hopefully maybe grow the business a bit.

"And at the same time it's in my home town, it's local. I'm able to keep a local business local, and allow me to actually come back and have something to do," said MacNeil.

Other than creating some consistent branding, had said he had no plans for any real changes to the business, which is known locally as simply Greek's and is famous for its secret recipe for Lunenburg sausage and pudding.

Lunenburg sausage and pudding is available in a number of Sobeys outlets and that company's associate stores, as well as independent retailers such as Fresh Mart in New Germany.

As someone who has been in management before, that side of the business was the easy part, he had said.

He told me he had even gotten his head around the recipes.

Similar to pâté, Lunenburg pudding is a traditional German food.

According to MacNeil, the company's six employees who agreed to remain with him as the new owner were invaluable.

"I wouldn't have been able to buy the business if they didn't stay, because they're that good," he said.

He admitted that what was particularly challenging initially was learning about the sausage and pudding industry itself, and "understanding the process" - how the staff go about what they need to do, the different types and cuts of meat, proper trimming and correct use of the equipment.

Taking over the job officially on February 1, MacNeil intended to train in basic and advanced meat cutting courses, "so that I can actually work behind the counter."

Serving customers is a role he "absolutely" saw for himself, particularly as relief for when employees are on vacation or during busier times.

"That's sort of the nice thing about the business is that you can visit with people and you have daily contact," said MacNeil.

At the time, MacNeil said the company couldn't afford the cost of becoming federally inspected in order to be able to distribute outside of Nova Scotia, but he still saw plenty of growth in the Nova Scotia market itself.

"Right now, we sell from Bridgewater to Dartmouth, over to the Valley and going Middleton to Windsor. We do some business Liverpool to Yarmouth.

"So when I look at the province, we're not covering the whole province," he emphasized.

Noting that over the years the company's name has gone by a number of variations, MacNeil intended to establish branding around the name Greek's Quality Meats - Home of Lunenburg Pudding and Sausage.

But the company sells more than just sausage and pudding. Individual customers and wholesalers can also find chicken, pork and beef as well as cheese and sauerkraut.

MacNeil envisaged expanding its product line a bit, however he didn't anticipate a lot of redevelopment or expansion of the retail outlet on St. Phillips itself.

"I'm 60 in April. How much do you want to put in, and are you going to get that back before you really want to retire?" he had asked.

At the same time, he admitted, he was very excited about running the old business, because, for him, "it's so new."

MacNeil's funeral will be July 23 at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Bridgewater.

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