Bells are Ringing in Durham

Bells are Ringing in Durham

When Graham Kennedy began to completely refurbish a stunning building in a prime location to its former glory, he knew it would be a long journey but a journey well worth taking.  Situated right in the bustling city centre of picturesque Durham and overlooking Durham Cathedral, a world heritage site, this Grade II listed building had a huge amount of potential but needed a complete overhaul.

Starting afresh

The shop was originally called Bimbis which was historically very popular but had lost its way over time.  The building is on the only road which leads to the University: an excellent location but it had turned primarily into a student haunt after a night out rather than somewhere the tourists could also go for lunch.  At four storeys high, the building had student accommodation on the top three storeys and on the ground floor the takeaway was in the centre, surrounded by the restaurant but the toilets were only accessible via the kitchen.

Graham had experience in the industry with his first Bells establishment, a successful takeaway a mile down the road, but he realised that for his first venture into a restaurant the original shop’s design would have to be completely changed.  He decided to create a separate takeaway with the restaurant split between the ground and first floor, still leaving the top two floors as student flats.

To add to this, there were further complications to his refit; all planning had to go through a conservation team who had very strict guidelines for what Graham could and couldn’t do.  As Graham explains: ‘As an example, one of the issues we had was with the ceiling; it’s Italian hand plastered from the 18th century and the conservation team would not allow any water on it, even if there was a fire!’

To realise Graham’s dream, everyone had to sit round a table to discuss all the details and reach an agreement.  ‘The building is the oldest timber frame residential in Durham so they wanted to make sure that we would respect the building.  Fortunately I think the conservation team could see that the changes I wanted to make for the building made commercial sense and, more importantly for them, I had the best interests at heart for the building.  This meant we were all able to work together and the shop is now how I would have visualised it’.

The Little Touches

Graham had a major input in the design of the restaurant and wanted a clear nautical theme in the design.  He included little touches such as the fish stencils on the windows to the ship’s wheel displayed on the wall on the first floor seating area and as a central feature, a large fish tank that separates the takeaway from the restaurant.

He also commissioned local companies to design eye-catching pieces in the restaurant: two lampshades that look like a school of fish surrounding the light and a striking mirror with wooden carving depicting fisherman trying to catch a very large fish!

Local Boy
Graham passionately believes in sourcing products locally; from his potatoes to his tea bags, he makes sure that the majority of his suppliers are local. ‘I feel that the smaller local companies are more passionate about the business and will go that extra mile to produce a better product.  They also employ local people and provide a really good service which both are really important qualities.  The fish and chip shop industry is after all an industry mainly made up of independent businesses who are really passionate about what they do so to me it makes sense to reflect this in the suppliers I use.’

It’s of no surprise then that Graham also sources his fish locally: ‘I’ve had the same fish merchant for 25 years so I know that the fish are from sustainable sources and they are good quality product.  My belief is that I would only serve products to my customers what I myself would want and expect.’

Whilst Graham is passionate about sourcing locally, he’s not too sure that the customers feel as strongly as he does: ‘I feel that the majority of customers want a good product but customers are more concerned in this current climate on costs: for example if there were two fish houses next door to one another, one selling sustainable fish and the other not but £1 cheaper, I think the cheaper fish house would be busier!  It’s a balancing act of quality versus price.’

Constant customers

The shop’s location means that there is a steady flow of tourists throughout the year as well as University students who dominate Durham during term time.  When choosing a fryer, Graham knew he needed a dependable range to cope with the high footfall so he decided on a Florigo range; he’d had a Florigo in his other shop and knew they were reliable and produced good quality food.

The restaurant has now been opened for six months and customers have been flocking to their door thanks to its stylish makeover and its prime location.

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