From snags to pavlova: an old butcher shop’s new life

When Bill Tsigos heard that a woman wanted to convert his Alphington butcher shop into a pavlova outlet, he was a little puzzled.

Pavlova was not a dish he knew. As a butcher, T-bone steaks, mince, and his famous sausages were more his domain.

Pleased to meat you: Nerida McPherson sells pavlovas out of Bill Tsigos’s former Alphington butcher shop.Credit:Scott McNaughton

But Mr Tsigos, 86, a much-loved figure in this north-eastern Melbourne suburb – in 2018 The Age named his shop as one of the “six reasons to visit Alphington” – is now happy to see his Wingrove Street premises buzzing with customers, since the Pav Queen cafe opened last Wednesday.

The shop, which he bought in 1970, and which Mr Tsigos believes was a butcher shop for 100 years, had been vacant since he retired two years ago.

His new tenant, Nerida McPherson, aka the Pav Queen, has retained features like wall tiles, the red-painted concrete floor and the overhead butchers’ rails.

Ms McPherson’s refurbished counter was Mr Tsigos’s counter, and one of his hardwood butcher’s blocks is now a restored customer table.

Bill Tsigos in his shop in 2018. Credit:Richard Cornish

Mr Tsigos recently tasted some pavlova, and liked it, and Ms McPherson said he is welcome any time, to sit and greet old friends.

Ms McPherson, said she had sold out by 2pm every day since she opened.

She said the word pavlova conjured up images of our nanas serving them. “We use really simple wholesome ingredients, lots of fresh fruits. It’s good old-fashioned food.”

Ms McPherson says pavlovas can be difficult to make at home, so customers like to buy them. And a pavlova shop – which she hasn’t heard of before – has a novelty factor.

One customer, Jen, of Northcote, who visited for the first time on Sunday, said: “I think it fits in with the aesthetic of the area — it’s just slightly quirky.”

Ms McPherson, who lost work hosting foodie events, videos and podcasts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had never made a pavlova before making one for a friend’s birthday in August 2020.

The pav was a hit, word spread through social media, and the Pav Queen click and collect service was born.

In February, when chef Scott Pickett, who lent her use of a Collingwood restaurant kitchen, needed the space back, she thought of quitting the pav caper.

But customers kept ordering, and she noticed the ‘For Lease’ sign on Mr Tsigos’s shop when driving past.

“As soon as I walked in, I felt that it had such a beautiful spirit, that I said to Mum, ‘this is the place’. I loved the old charm of it. Then I met Bill, and I loved Bill.”

On Sunday, the train station car park opposite the shop was full with shoppers for Alphington Farmers Market. Some trickled into the pav cafe.

For Ms McPherson, one benefit of the shop is spending more time with her mother, Jeny, 75, who bakes the meringues, and daughter Tilly, 20, the front-of-house manager.

She said the customer response had been overwhelming.

“I could not have asked for a better week. I’ve had so many locals reaching out — excited, encouraging and generous. I’m thrilled.”

As for what she wants to achieve: “Our main goal is that people feel better when they walk out, than when they walked in.”

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