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Tips of the trade

Having award-winning frier and KFE School of Frying Excellence trainer Garry Rosser come and cast an eye over the business has helped Fiddlers Elbow make a number of improvements, including slashing 15% off its fish bill

When you take on a run-down fish and chip shop, there’s only really one direction trade can go in and that’s up. This has certainly been the case for Dominic Eusden who first rented Fiddlers Elbow in Leintwardine, Wales, three years ago before purchasing it outright in May last year.

Making a number of immediate changes - like introducing regular opening hours, switching from frozen chips to chipping and peeling potatoes, adding a gluten free day and moving from wrapping paper to biodegradable boxes - saw takings increase instantly. Dominic even struck up a deal with the owner of the pub next door enabling customers to eat their fish and chips over a pint. “We get the food sales, he gets the wet sales and he doesn’t have to worry about having to cook them a meal,” explains Dominic.

With the addition of a card machine and the introduction of online ordering, takings increased further and in the first year Dominic doubled the turnover from £65,000 under the previous owners to £125,000.

“Card sales are increasing constantly,” says Dominic, who averages around £30,000 is spent a year on plastic. “People tend to spend a bit more when they are paying by card. Before they order, they will ask if we take card and when we say yes they reel off a list of what they want.”

On-line ordering has been a real hit too, both with customers and also from a business sense as, rather than sign up with the likes of Just Eat or Hungryhouse, Dominic found a company that could offer the technology behind the app for free.

“We Googled and researched online ordering and found a company in Romania where the platform is free, it doesn’t cost a penny. If you choose to accept payments online, then they charge a fee per month. So we tried just the basic online ordering system at first and people would come in and pay by cash or card and it was fine, so we started accepting payments online too.

“To start with, orders were slow but we kept pushing it on our website and on Facebook and telling people on a busy weekend if you can’t get to us on the phone, jump online and place the order that way. Orders are growing and the best part is that our fees are only about £30 a month.”

While the improvements made under his own steam have clearly had a dramatic effect on turning the business around, Dominic was keen to grow it further, something that Garry Rosser, owner of The Scallop Shell in Bath and a trainer at KFE’s School of Frying Excellence, was able to assist with when he visited his shop earlier this month. Helping to pinpoint areas that Dominic could tackle differently, he started with cutting fish.

“We used to buy our fish in the portion size we needed, which was 6-8oz, but we found it was getting a bit thin so started buying 16-32oz,” explains Dominic.  

With his knife skills not the sharpest, achieving uniformed portion sizes was proving tricky and Dominic was left with lots of off cuts. Although these were never wasted, being used for homemade fishcakes, there came a point when Dominic was making more fish cakes than he was selling.

“Garry showed me a better way of cutting the fish to make sure every piece was useable,” he explains. “I was cutting it quite thick and short, whereas Garry showed me how to do it at angle, so I get more portions out of a fillet and have minimal waste. It’s saved me about 15% on my fish costs just by doing that.”

This wasn’t the only area Garry was able to assist in, suggesting a better method of cooking mushy peas using a Big Boy pressure cooker.
“That’s worked really well as the peas cook quicker and I can put them on, walk away and when it blows, they are ready,” says Dominic. “For the sake of £80, it’s saved me time and my mushy peas are now more consistent, whereas before they could be too mushy and other times I would need a masher on them.”

With the peas perfected, Garry and Dominic looked at ways to extend the menu without putting any additional strain on operations as Dominic had his fingers burnt once before. He explains: “We are constantly looking at ways to offer our customers more, for example, we tried pizzas once as people would have to either go to the next town to get one or pay £5 delivery. Because we were getting asked for them, we thought we would take the plunge and invest in a double decker pizza oven and all the equipment. In the first year, we spent more on the electricity running it than we made on pizzas so we knocked it on the head.”

But with Garry an expert on the grill and coming equipped with an induction hob, it wasn’t long before he was sharing his knowledge and passion for grilled fish.

“Grilled fish was something I had already thought about, but I assumed it would be too difficult,” says Dominic. “Garry showed me it was actually quite quick and easy - literally all it took was about five minutes to cook and there was minimal effort involved.”

With grilled salmon now a special on the menu, Dominic is keen to expand the offering if it proves popular with customers.

With all the puzzle pieces falling into place, the final part of the jigsaw came together just a few weeks ago when a month-long refurbishment of the premises was completed. With walls knocked down to give a shop twice the size it was previously, new signage, digital menus, a drinks fridge sunk into the wall, all new energy efficient LED spotlights and a three pan Florigo frying range, the shop is not only unrecognisable but it’s also more efficient.
Dominic adds: “With the shop getting busier, the old range just couldn’t keep up with demand. We only had the two pans and the recovery time was so long that when the chips had gone, we were still having to wait for more to cook. We did a test fry on the new range just before we opened and the recovery time was so quick. I can get six portions out every two minutes.”

Even though the business was closed for a month for the refurb, it’s still on target to beat the £130,000 turnover target Dominic has set for the year. He adds: “I don’t think I could put a price on Garry’s help. It’s been invaluable, he’s really helped us.

“When you’re doing this day in, day out, on your own, you can get tunnel vision, so it’s been great to have that second opinion.

“There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do things, it’s just some ways are more economical and easier.”


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