Meatland’s closure knocks stuffing out of customers
From a place to buy meat to a meeting place for South African olim, Ra’anana’s iconic Meatland has been a beloved institution for South African olim for almost three decades. So, when the store’s marketing manager, Lisa Starr, announced on 9 August that it would permanently close its doors on 30 September, the news was greeted with shock and sadness.
“What a catastrophe!” says South African oleh Yitzchak Maron. “When we first came on aliya to Ra’anana, Meatland was Pieworks, which we loved. When we moved to Modi’in we would schlep to Ra’anana to buy our favourites. If we heard that someone was going to Ra’anana, we would ask to get a bottle of this or a tin of that. The recipes [in their newsletter] were always a winner – tried, tested, and made over and over again.”
“It’s a massive loss to so many who truly felt this was a family,” says Starr. The closure was purely an economic decision, she says. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was hit by an unprecedented increase in the price of imported products and chose to absorb many of those added costs. “The price of raw ingredients also sky-rocketed,” Starr says, “and we barely increased the prices on any of the Meatland-made dishes in years. We hoped to replace our range of ready-made foods with outsourcing, but weren’t able to find a manufacturer who could supply us with prepared meals at comparable quality and value.
“We’ve considered moving to more competitively priced premises and expanding into fresh produce and a deli. If Meatland was in a less expensive location, perhaps it could have clawed its way back, but it doesn’t make sense to move at this late stage. Every effort was made to keep Meatland’s doors open. Sadly, a permanent closure is the most logical next step.”
Pieland, which later became Meatland, was founded by Pretoria-born businessman Maish Isaacson preceding his aliya from Johannesburg about 30 years ago. Maish, his wife Jocelyn, and their children all live on the same street in Ra’anana. “Meatland was only ever owned by Maish – it was a family business in every sense of the word,” says Starr.
“Pieworks became Pieland, which comprised of a factory in Netanya and three pie shops. Due to Israelis’ unfamiliarity with pies, the factory and two of the shops were closed, but the Ra’anana branch thrived. Many customers still talk of sitting on the pavement eating pies and slap chips.
“It wasn’t long before customers began commenting on the high quality of the meat filling and, recognising this opportunity, then-manager Geoff Mallach began selling the meat we used in our pies. Sales of meat soon overtook pies, so the pies took a backseat and our name changed to Meatland.”
With ex-Capetonian Mallach at the helm, “the range grew to include a wide selection of unique imported brands”, says Starr. “Hardworking Geoff was soon joined by his wife, Richella, who set up the Meatland kitchen where, together with a loyal team, she expertly prepared South African favourites including chopped herring, kichel, brisket, perogen, fried fish, kugels, pies, and more.
“Once Geoff retired, Maish’s daughter, Tali, took up the reins as Meatland manager, while daughter Dina headed up the shop staff.” Meanwhile, though Starr’s background was in marketing, “my heart was always in food,” she says. “Prior to my aliya, I ran a busy cooking school in Sandton, and replicated this formula from my home in Hod Hasharon. Nine years ago, recognising the need for a fresh perspective, Maish recruited me to work at Meatland, and gave me complete freedom to refresh the brand. We updated the logo, storefront, product range, and marketing approach.”
Starr joined Meatland with a large mailing list from her cookery school, and soon grew this list to more than 5 000 subscribers. “This newsletter became the most effective form of advertising, with customers flocking to buy featured products and participate in tastings.
“Once Richella went into well-deserved retirement, I turned my attention to the Meatland kitchen, adapting existing recipes, adding new dishes, and growing a vegan range.” Homemade meals included chopped liver, brisket, potato kugel, chicken soup, vegetarian soups, curries, dairy dishes, and vegan options.
“Everything was made from scratch using quality ingredients,” says Starr. “We were especially known for chag cooking, and our kitniot-free Pesach catering was ordered from Haifa to Jerusalem and everywhere in between.”
It carried Israel’s widest selection of imported products under one roof. “In recent years, we were successful in growing the range of South African products, and were thrilled finally to offer much requested items like Peppermint Crisp, Provita, ProNutro, and more,” Starr says.
“Some products like Appletiser, Marmite, Ina Paarman, and Nando’s sauces were widely sold. Nostalgic brands like Five Roses, Creme Soda, Rajah, Future Life, Crosse & Blackwell Mayonnaise, All Gold Tomato Sauce, and Tennis Biscuits found fans largely in the South African community. We were famous for our biltong, boerewors, and dry wors. We heard the words ‘it’s a taste of home’ daily.
“We would see customers practically camping outside when we brought in products like Flings and Simba chips,” Starr says. “Customers loved being able to shop in an English-only environment, and frequently bumped into old friends. I can’t begin to tell you how many happy reunions took place in the Meatland aisles. It wasn’t just a shop, it was a community.”
Meatland was loved by people in all ages and stages. “We made aliya two years ago, and we love living in Israel,” says Gerald Davids. “But there will always be something you miss about South Africa, and we loved the chutney, Nando’s sauces, Colman’s mustard, imported South African hake, various cereals, and most of all, the chocolates.”
“I’ve been living in Israel for more than 29 years and I have such fond memories of getting perogen and hot chips from Pieland, which became Meatland,” says Shely Cohen. “I’ve always kept a box of steak pies in the freezer for my soldiers; a ready-mix cookie dough bag for emergency cakes; and dry wors as a treat. Apple crumble took care of dessert on Shabbat, and my cravings for chocolate could be satisfied by Twirl and Cadbury buttons. I’ll miss Lisa’s recipes and Thursday tastings. I’m sorry to see the end of this era.”
“My mom, who lived alone in Ra’anana and made aliya in her 60s, would buy there all the time,” says Gayle Allen. “It was like a home away from home for her. She’d order food for Friday nights, and as she got older and was less mobile, she’d get it delivered.”
“I’ve had messages where people admit to crying [about the closure],” says Starr. “Sadly, this won’t change the decision, made with so much anguish.” She says most of the staff have plans in place after Meatland closes, ranging from retirement to studying to new jobs. “So, in spite of Meatland closing, I trust we will all find ourselves. But we’ll never find another Meatland.”