Irit Noble. Darling 20th May 2019. Darling Meat Market has a sterling reputation throughout the Western Cape and further, into South Africa. Renowned for its craft salamis, cured meats and brilliant biltong, this establishment offers top shelf delectables at big-family prices. Standing in the impeccably clean, smoothly running ‘little country store’, one would never guess at the massive industry taking place behind its delightful, often bustling interior! The amount of meats they distribute is dazzling.
The man behind the meat is Parker Kriel, a premier member of Darling’s Old Guard. Interviewing Parker gave me everything I had hoped for: deep history, heart-warming tales, and a few outright laughs. He is a man of stamina and stories. He is a man of meat!
Darling Meat Market is a family-run enterprise currently in its 5th generation. Parker himself began his life as a butcher when he was just 16. “We are a long line of butchers, from my great-great grandfather right down to my sons. My father came from a family of 10 siblings, with each of his eight sons working in the butchery.”
In 1982, in what he thought would be a break with tradition, Parker decided to sell the butchery he himself had owned for thirteen years. He decided to find another type of enterprise. “I had just sold my shop in Bonnievale, and we were off to the Kruger National Park. Our first holiday in 13 years! We had three teenagers and a four-year-old, and I had never had a proper holiday with them. I was ready to be finished with the business and have a bit of an easier life. And then my sister, who lived in Darling, called to ask if I wanted to buy a butcher shop that had come available there. I said ‘me buy a butcher shop again? Never in my life!!’”
I laugh at Parker’s emphatic tone, “I said no thank you I’m not interested. Being a butcher you can’t just let anyone look after it like a grocery store for a week or two. A shop just needs someone to man it, but a butchery is different. You have to oversee slaughter, which is a long process. Then there is the transportation. You have to see that the sausage gets made, and that the polonies and Vienna’s and everything are made up with the perfect amount of spices.
“I said I’ll come visit you but forget showing me the shop; I never want to even see another butcher shop!” he said to his sister.
But of course, when they came to Darling… they went to see the shop… just sommer…
Parker picks up the story: “And old Willem Groot, he was the blockman, he was sitting on that barstool and he jumped up when I came in. There were no customers besides us! None.
What made me buy the place? I don’t know. I really can’t tell you… it’s in my blood.
And I nearly walked away a few times in the early days. There was nothing going on! People were getting their meat from Hopefield, and now I was the one sitting alone in an empty butchery all day. But my father had taught me to value honesty and quality, and so I just worked very hard to make it grow, I saw it becoming a success. And of course, when my sons Kevin and Stephen came in I was so thankful that I had stuck it out.”
Parker speaks highly of his children and gives kudos to his son Stephen for his recipe experimentation, always amending and perfecting the spice concoctions to get those egte Darling Meat Market flavors that people love.
The smaller Darling Meat Market is in Darling North, and this was started because Parker felt sorry for the many people he saw making the trek up to his shop, sometimes in the pouring rain, often to buy only R1 worth of meat offcuts for soup. He began to ferry these loyal customers backwards and forwards. After making their small purchases they could wait until there were enough people, at which time Parker would let everyone hop onto his bakkie and take them back home.
A man of meat, and a man of heart!
And far from a small-town one-horse operation, his shop is a multi-million Rand enterprise that sends tasty joy into South Africa and brings more accolades home to Darling.
Hats off to you, Parker Kriel.
And while Parker started it all, and holds the business close to his heart, he is no longer the owner. Son Stephen first joined the butchery and was later joined by Kevin. While Parker relinquished ownership many years ago, he continues to lend a hand, and can often be seen handing out biltong samples from behind the spotless counter!
Parker says that he wishes he was looking at the 6th generation of family coming in, but it looks like there are no grandchildren currently keen to don the butcher’s apron. He fears that the Kriel run will eventually die out.
Maybe so, but the legacy will live on!
To close the interview, I asked Parker if he ever regretted his decision to move here and his answer was an emphatic “NO! I moved here 36 years ago and I love everything about Darling.”
A true story of how following your instinct, against everything your head tells you, can bring happiness and growth to yourself and those around you.
Thank you Parker, for your example!