Serving Stornoway's cosmopolitan customers since 1931, shop widens choice for meals

By Taylor Edgar

One of the oldest established family-run businesses in the Western Isles, W J Macdonald on Francis Street has served many thousands of customers since being established in 1931.

With such a long and prodigious track record, it's safe to assume they know more than a thing or two about keeping customers happy.

The founder John Smith (Shonnie Bhraggie) was born in Achmore in 1892. In 1918 he left Lewis to work in Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina and Chile as a shepherd. He eventually became a ‘gaucho’, a pampas cowboy, before returning home in 1923.

With what he had earned in South America he was able to buy properties at 34 Church Street and 43 Keith Street and establish the butchers business, John Smith and Sons.

In 1975 one of his sons, Bobby "Bhraggie", bought a butchers business at 5 Francis Street from Willie John Macdonald who had established his butchers in 1931. The firm continues to operate under the name of W. J. Macdonald and is now run by Shonnie Bhraggie's grandsons, John and Robert Smith.

Like the other butchers in the parish of Stornoway, WJ Macdonald’s Stornoway Black Pudding is always in demand. This, along with fruit pudding, white pudding and haggis, is accompanied by a comprehensive variety of poultry and meats including Lewis lamb and beef. They pride themselves in selling local meat as far as possible when in season.

Supporting the normal fare you would expect in a good family butcher’s shop, WJ Macdonald have widened their scope and stock other food produce such as smoked salmon, bakery items, eggs, fish, shellfish, and a selection of exotic meats including kangaroo, bison, llama, ostrich and wild boar.  Two particular favourites are kangaroo and ostrich which is put down to the adventurous palates of local people, many of whom are well travelled and had tried such exotic meats in restaurants.

Coupled with a stronger tradition of cooking meals from scratch, this willingness to try cooking new things then kicks in at home. As John Smith jokes: “If people eat guga, then they’ll just about try anything.”

As well as providing free recipes, WJ Macdonald have created a tasty line of haggis, black pudding, chicken and vegetable pakora and stock a big range of Madhuban curry sauces.  There is also a colourful range of ready-to-cook stir-fries which are a daily sell-out to customers pressed for time when they get home for their evening meals.

Comments John: “Shoppers in Stornoway are definitely more adventurous. We speak to other butchers a lot and we are told that they couldn’t shift half of the things we do. In other places if it’s not ready to eat up in a microwave then they aren’t interested whereas here we do a lot more proper cooking. And we’re probably more cosmopolitan than many other places.”

But it is their black pudding that has grabbed many of the headlines. Using the family’s decades old recipe the black pudding has gained fans far and wide, bolstered, like the other Stornoway Black Pudding producers, by the granting of Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status by the European Commission.