We’re on the road again and this time we visited our lovely customers, Richard & Josette from Fish & Chips @ Weston Grove! They were recently awarded the Field to Frier award, Good Catch award and to top it all off, they achieved 3rd place prize for UK’s Best Fish and Chip Shop in the 2020 National Fish and Chip Awards.

Catch up with the couple doing more than Fish & Chips! From being certified as Makaton Friendly to sponsoring a homeless football team. It’s fair to say Fish & Chips @ Weston Grove go the extra mile.

After winning Best Newcomer last year, how do you think your multiple award wins will affect business?

[Josette]

We had a record-breaking week in January, which shows the power of the awards. Lots of new people, travelling many miles to come to us. One set of customers came all the way from Singapore to try our fish and chips, we were closed at the time, but Richard answered the door and fried up the Florigo range and they enjoyed our fish and chips!

[Richard]

We also had a gentleman that came on a motorbike in the rain and wind all the way from Oxford! It introduces a lot of people to our chip shop and if you do your job right hopefully, they’ll come back.

[Josette]

The publicity is amazing, it’s in all the national papers. Lots of people congratulate us and are thrilled for us.

Describe how it felt when your name got called out for your first win?

[Josette]

When our name was called out for the first time we were in total shock. Everyone was hugging us, praising us etc. we get off the stage and it was quite a walk back to our table, everyone is congratulating us at our table and we’re not really listening to the announcement because we were only just sitting down with the award and then we heard Fish & Chips @ Weston Grove called again! We started to feel like we’re on a real roll here so to get 3rd was just fantastic. And we’re so pleased for John at Cod’s Scallops, very well deserved.

[Richard]

It was a wonderful feeling and I can’t promote the awards strong enough. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. We were newcomers last year and we are living proof that you can do it. It’s done us nothing but good it pulls your standards up, even if we won first place, we’d still want to compete to keep the standards high. We were buzzing!

[Josette]

It was extra special this time as Richards daughter and my daughter were there, alongside my lifelong best friend and to share that moment with them was fantastic. To get 3 awards is just more then we could’ve ever hoped for, it was a challenge getting them all home, we nearly went to buy a suitcase!

We came away feeling like we’ve really achieved something. We’re so proud to bring it home for our staff and our customers. The staff are over the moon, we’re all going for an afternoon dinner next week to celebrate, we’ve got a mixture of young people and some more mature people it’s a great team. They love that we’re award winning and proud to work here! Before we were award winning, we struggled to find staff, now we’re got a waiting list of people wanting to work here!

Can you tell us a bit more about Richard being a potato merchant and what that does for your business?

[Josette]

By the age of 5 Richard could identify potatoes growing in the fields and whenever you go out for a meal with him, he can name the potato that you’re eating and the health benefits of it too. The customers see the board of what potato we’re using that day and Richard can tell them all the properties of it. We have a book called the potato appreciation guide and people love it! It’s a lifetime of acquired knowledge.

[Richard]

I started because my Dad had a heart attack when I was 17, all he had was a phone and an estate car! He just sold over the phone.  Then I decided I wanted to start supplying fish and chip shops. When I used to supply fish and chips shops, I always thought I wouldn’t mind a go at that and when Josette told me it was her dream as well it was the perfect match.

What would be your best top tip for someone just starting out in the industry?

[Richard]

Get some proper training because you can’t practice on your customers. It’s like gold. Never get tempted to buy cheap fish or potatoes, always buy the best you can get. Don’t bother filling your menu with discounts and trying to get into price wars, provide a high-quality product, set a good price and stick with it.

[Josette]

Look after your staff and invest in them. Network as much as possible, read the trade press, get ideas, go to National Fish Friers meetings and attend trade shows.

How has your gluten free and vegan options helped your business?

[Josette]

We did gluten free right from the start so people would travel to us just for that. We’ve got a gluten free pan in our range now so they’re product has improved. We’re used to have a queue for gluten free food but now they don’t have to wait.

We’re coeliac accredited too, it was great to get their approval, the observed our practice’s and tested our food, we passed with flying colours.

It’s lovely to see people come in for the first time to try our gluten free Fish and Chips, we’ve had grown men will cry and say “I haven’t had fish and chips in 25 years!” it can bring back so many memories for people.

[Richard]

The gluten free batter has come along so much it’s as good as your normal batter. You know that you’re not putting out a second-class product. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t do it right.

For our vegan customers they can come in and have pie, chips, peas and gravy. The biggest thing to say about gluten free and vegan customers is the extra revenue they can bring to your business. You could lose out to a whole family of customers because they want to eat in the same place together, if one of them is vegan or gluten free and you don’t offer these products they’ll go elsewhere!

What’s your favourite thing about frying on a Florigo range?

[Richard]

No loss in pan temperature. Now I can put 20 fish in the pan with no change in temperature whereas before I was pressing the boost button trying to get more power to the range, it was so frustrating!

[Josette]

We had our busiest Friday night ever with 150 portions going down to the cathedral and the pans never dropped in temperature and I don’t know how, but they didn’t!

[Richard]

It’s amazing what the range has done for us we’ve been able to step it up a gear. If there are people out there that were like us knowing they’ve gone as far as the can with what their old range can do, I’d say wholeheartedly, invest do it! The extra revenue makes the range look like nothing.

We know you support a local homeless football team; can you tell us more about it?

[Josette]

When I was in education, I ran a project that help teach homeless people how to read and write. So, when I started running this business, I knew I wanted to continue that good work somehow. I initially approached the local homeless charity just to donate at Christmas. They then set up a football team and we decided to sponsor them we also feed them after the match, for free of course!

At first they were losing, they’d come in fed up and cold but they’d sit and talk to us, shake our hands, they were so polite and thankful. They’re ordinary people that have just had a rough time, now they come in every week and the rest of our customers sit and talk to them.

Once they go back to the centre, they change out of their football kits back into their own clothes, pick up their bags and they’re back on the streets the same night. The first time they came in Richard had to go into the corner and have a cry because it was so sad.

They’ve started winning now and it’s started to remove isolation for them, build friendships and learn to trust each other with great teamworking skills. This activity has given them something to do, show up on time, have some fun etc. Richard and I were talking about it, thinking these are brilliant employability skills, so that’s our latest project to give them paid work placements so they can come and try working here and give them a chance to get back on their feet. We’re working closely with the charity trying to figure out the best way to make this happen.

We’re trying our best to break down barriers and we feel like we’ve got a social responsibility to help people and we can’t just think “oh that’s not our problem, it is our problem!”. We’re serious about it and they’re great lads.

Why do you think it’s so important to keep palm oil sustainable in your business?

We think it’s important because people have got to realise that they’re got to make the right choices in what oil they use because otherwise it will have some terrible impact on the environment if they don’t and sustainable palm oil is the best option. We’ve done a lot of work to help educate our customers and it doesn’t take away from the orangutan and if people don’t buy sustainable

[Richard]

To be champions for Chester zoo we had to go through and have an in-depth audit of everything to use in our shop to make sure that anything and everything that contained any palm oil was sustainable. We were amazed at how much people knew and what information they could give us and if there was a product that didn’t comply with sustainability, we’d just get rid of it.

Makaton Friendly

[Josette]

For those that don’t know, we’ve recently started doing Makaton which is the use of signs, symbols and speech to communicate with people who can’t or find it difficult to speak, such as someone with down syndrome. We’re the first Fish and Chip shop in the country to do it and we’re getting quite busy with it now, we’re on a map and interactive map so they can fine a Makaton friendly shop and Chester is hoping to become the first city to achieve Makaton friendly status. I wear this lanyard with my cards on, so they know I’m Makaton trained, they’re so excited to order for themselves! They’re all lovely and to be able to give someone the opportunity to order their own food is amazing, we’re just as excited as them we love doing it too.

A big thank you to Richard and Josette for great hospitality and for answering all of our questions at such a busy time for the business! Don’t forget to check them out on social media, visit their website or better yet, visit them for yourselves!