When an Okotoks couple immigrated to Canada, they found a lack of two very important things: English-style sausage and bacon.
“Your bacon is just done from belly pork, so that’s the streaky bit, and we make do with that because that’s what you get when you go to another country, you have to live their way,” said Tracey Worsley, who owns British Banger Company with her husband, Tim. “Sausages are all made with collagen skins, kind of chewy. I can’t cope with that.”
She and Tim decided to do something about it.
The Worsleys were butchers by trade, running a shop in the United Kingdom for eight years before the move across the pond, and decided they would open up a butchery in Okotoks, where they now offer an array of English sausages, traditional bacon, pork chops, meat and potato pies, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, and more.
Their knowledge and appreciation of the business came from their family back home. Tim’s aunt and uncle purchased a store front in 1964, which had been a pork butcher’s shop since 1937. They turned it into a general butchery and also offered fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as dry goods.
In 1999, the British government began instituting new regulations and Tim’s uncle decided he didn’t want the hassle of converting his practice, developing new policies and working with the metric system.
“He was the old school and was like, ‘I’m not doing this, now’s the time to retire,’” said Tracey. “Tim had always expressed an interest in the business so they approached us and asked if we were interested and we said yes.”
They took it on in 2000, and by 2003 had purchased the space next door to expand their business into a 3,000-square-foot, double-fronted store. It became a butcher shop, a delicatessen with sandwiches and hot pies, as well as the familiar dry goods and an offering of newspapers, candy, cigarettes and alcohol.
After five years, the Worsleys received a letter from an English corporation looking for premises to open 24-hour convenience stores. Tracey invited them to look at their shop, and an offer was made.
Three months later, they were closed.
“And we sat back and went, ‘Oh, we can immigrate now,” said Tracey.
The Worsleys had always thought of moving to New Zealand, but their daughters had grown up and opted not to immigrate. With New Zealand being a 24-hour flight away from the UK, they considered the possibility of Canada (an eight-hour flight) – after all, Tracey had a cousin who lived in Calgary at the time and he enjoyed life there.
Tracey said they ventured on a research trip in October 2008, and never gave New Zealand a second thought because they fell in love with Canada.
They were staying in downtown Calgary, and stumbled across Okotoks while looking for a little place called Turner Valley.
“We never found Turner Valley that day,” said Tracey.
Thinking they had missed the town when they reached Black Diamond, they turned around and went back through Okotoks to return to Calgary, but decided to stop and take a look around. They fell in love with the town and throughout their two weeks of travelling the perimeter of Calgary they found themselves returning to Okotoks time and time again.
“It’s just a home feeling,” said Tracey. “There’s a real welcoming feeling. Obviously 10 years ago it was a lot smaller, but we just loved it – everything about it was just what we wanted.”
They moved to Okotoks later that year, and though five years ago they moved outside of town into Foothills County, the Worsleys still consider the town their home, which is why they chose to open the British Banger Company on Elizabeth Street in May 2019.
It had taken some time to realize their dream – 10 years, in fact. In that time, Tim had jobs as a long-haul driver and in the oil patch, and Tracey worked as a meat packer for different grocery stores before doing office work and bookkeeping for small companies.
“Every now and again we’d say, ‘Should we start doing something?’ – ‘Yeah, but it’s not right yet, the time’s not right,’” said Tracey. “I don’t know when the time was going to be right.”
At Christmas 2018, Tracey said she looked at Tim and said, “We either do it now or we don’t do it.”
So they started working on sampling, trying out their recipes and cuts of meat on friends. From there, Tracey launched a Facebook page and people started buying their product.
When their current location on Elizabeth Street became available in 2019, the Worsleys took a look and were sold. Work on the business began in earnest in February 2019, with renovations through March.
Though she kept her own outside job for the first few months, Tracey left her business in November and now the couple work full time together in the shop.
They pride themselves on quality product and friendly customer service, providing a range of fresh meat, pies and a host of dry goods straight from home to bring a touch of the UK to the people who miss it.
One of things missed most is a “true full piece of bacon,” said Tracey, and not smoked but cured and flavoured – that’s the traditional English way of preparing it, as opposed to the “tail end” piece North Americans sell.
As far as the sausage, they bring the familiar flavours of the UK and use natural casings like lamb skin and hog skin, rather than collagen casings used in Canada.
“It’s not chewy, which in Canada they use the collagen, man-made skins, and they’re really chewy,” said Tracey. “So we’ve got away from that and we’ve just brought in the national flavours, which is the pork, the Lincolnshire and the Cumberland we specialize in.”
They also run special, limited-time flavours on seasonal rotations for a little something different, she said.
For dry goods, they stock items like large pickled onions in malt vinegar, and Soreen malt loaf. The shop also serves up Scotch eggs, black pudding, steak and kidney pie, meat and potato pie, and pork sausage rolls.
“It’s just things you’re brought up on that you miss,” said Tracey. “Things like steak and kidney puddings, people miss that, and they fly through the door.”
But they didn’t just open up the British Banger Company to cater to their fellow expatriates. They enjoy seeing their Canadian neighbours walk through the door as well.
“We didn’t do it just to aim at the British people, it’s to give people a chance to try something,” said Tim. “We give them a different choice. The good thing about it is, people are willing to try it.”
The business has taken off so well there’s no time to stop. Whereas in the UK they could have production days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for sales on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the stream of customers is constant and unpredictable in Okotoks.
“We haven’t got that here,” said Tracey. “We’re producing and selling continually.”
She said Christmas was busier than expected, and the weeks are different from one to the next. One Tuesday might be quiet, but the next Tuesday could be hopping.
“It’s different because we’ve started this from scratch, but in England we bought an existing business so we knew what we were up against,” said Tracey. “We haven’t got a clue with this. There’s no buying pattern and it’s all new.
“Quiet time of the year? No, not for us. We’ve not had a quiet week yet.”
They’re already working toward the future with expansion plans. Currently the British Banger Company sells at summer markets like the Millarville Farmers’ Market, and takes its show on the road with a cargo trailer loaded with freezers to fill orders in Medicine Hat one Sunday per month.
One of their daughters, who resides in the UK, is applying for a visa to immigrate to Canada and open a new arm of the business – the British Banger Food Truck Company.
They’ve had inquiries from Edmonton, British Columbia and even eastern Canada for products, and currently the Worsleys are working on logistics to see how best to ship their wares. But Tracey said no matter what, they need to take care of Alberta first, and that starts in Okotoks.
“There’s so much to do, but whatever we do, this is our home base,” she said. “Even if we get to a stage production is huge and we’ve got to go and get a specific production plant, we’d want it to be in Okotoks. But no matter what, this stays.”
Although they’re learning as they go, Tim said the customers they serve teach them a lot about the business as it grows. They’ve got a policy in place – in fact, it’s stated right on their store wall: if you buy something and like it, tell everybody; if you don’t like it or there’s something wrong, come back and tell them so the issue can be fixed if possible.
“We want to look after people,” said Tim. “It’s an education too, teaching them about these foods. They’re different, what we were brought up on, and Canadians are starting to learn and come around.”