Coull’s in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, has braved Covid and invested in doubling the size of its restaurant, opening up new opportunities
Natasha Coull and her husband Bob have run Coull’s Fish & Chips – known as Cannon until October last year – for the past 27 years. Located just three miles from the Scottish border in the seaside resort of Berwick-upon-Tweed, it takes 60% of its yearly revenue between April and October, driven by tourists across England as well as Scots crossing the border from nearby Edinburgh and Glasgow.
When Covid hit and the shop they rented out next door was handed back to them, it presented an opportunity for Natasha and Bob to completely overhaul their cramped takeaway and 20-seater restaurant. Now stands a modern-day takeaway, 50-seater restaurant and their golden egg – a landscaped, south-facing garden terrace with seating outside for 40.
“From what we had before to what we have now is unbelievable,” says Natasha. “The restaurant was at the back of the takeaway with booth seating and no windows, now it’s spacious and airy, plus we have the garden area which we’ve never had before. It’s our first summer this year being able to use the garden and the feedback we’ve had is that everyone is loving being outside.
“In our little town, there aren’t many restaurants that have an outdoor area where people can sit outside and have lunch. We’ve got one Italian and a few little pubs that have tiny beer gardens at the back but you can’t really sit outside and have a nice family meal.
“So that’s definitely been a good driving force.”
As unique as the space outside is the decor inside, which Natasha designed herself, taking inspiration from image sharing platform Pinterest and creating a mood board to show her builders and joiners.
A listed building, Natasha was keen to retain as much of the original character as she could, complementing the brickwork with industrial elements such as fake stainless steel ducting along the ceiling and corrugated metal on the walls. Finishing touches include fishing nets, a grass feature wall and neon lights. The refurb has certainly had a huge impact on customers.
“I had one cheeky customer come in and tell me it looks too nice to be a fish and chip shop,” says Natasha. “She actually said, why would you waste your time and have a fish and chip shop in here? It should be a tapas bar or a wine bar, it’s far too nice for a fish and chip shop!”
Raising the bar is what it’s all about though and since reopening, Coull’s has been approached to host a range of corporate events as well as a 60th party, a postponed office Christmas party and even a wedding.
“Someone asked if they could get married in the garden, they wanted a small wedding and asked if we could cater for it. It’s all food for thought, we’re not going to do anything like that right now, but it’s great to think we could do that. Doing the refit has pointed us in a completely new direction with so many new possibilities which, again, is fantastic.”
Attracting plenty of new customers from couples to families to groups, the changes have also helped lift a tired town centre.
“Looking at our town, it’s like every town, a lot of shops are closing down and it’s becoming all charity shops, coffee shops or hairdressers,” says Natasha. “I knew it needed something putting back and a reason for people to come into town. A lot of people have given us that feedback, that we’re giving something back and that this is exactly what is needed.”
Although the restaurant has doubled in capacity, the menu has been scaled back, by almost half estimates Natasha, to make it easier for her and her staff at busy times. All the classics such as sausages, haggis and burgers have remained plus they’ve added pizzas, baked potatoes and several extra vegan and vegetarian options.
A whole new EPOS system has also been installed in the restaurant, with staff now taking orders on tablets rather than traditional pen and paper. “That’s been fantastic and taken a lot of time off because it sends food orders directly to the kitchen and drinks orders to the bar. Drinks can be at a table before the food orders even hit the kitchen so speed-wise that’s been a big improvement.”
During the renovation, Natasha felt the time was right to rebrand the shop, giving the family name the credit it deserves. “It’s a little bit of a pinch me moment that we’ve actually got our name up there,”she says. “It’s really nice but, don’t get me wrong, I still answer the phone and say ‘Hello Cannon, sorry Coull’s!”
While prices continue to increase around them, Natasha feels she has got the business to a point where it can ride out the current challenges, adding: “The cost of living is going up and up but from our perspective, I would say we’re still good. The money is still coming in here, which is amazing. People still love a takeaway, don’t they?”