Expert Eye: Ryan Hughes, Ship Deck, Caerphilly

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Expert Eye: Ryan Hughes

Almost half-way through his reign as winner of the Fish & Chip Takeaway of the Year Award, Ryan talks about the changes he has made at Ship Deck to accommodate the increased trade

Trade continues to increase for us, which is great, but after the first few weeks of winning and it being hectic, we knew we needed to adapt to make life a little easier on the staff and get the waiting times for customers back to where we wanted them to be.

The main improvement we’ve made is adding a second fryer in the kitchen for chips so that our main three-pan range in the takeaway is used for fish and battered items and as a finishing pan for our chips. It means we’ve got all three pans set at a higher temperature on the main range so we are just sealing the food in one pan, moving it over to another, sealing and moving over, giving us a constant flow of fish. The second range, installed in the kitchen, has created a blanching area for our chips. It’s only a two-pan range but it has drastically increased our output and sped up the process. 

Realistically, the long-term plan would be to do a refit and have one long counter in the shop, so all our servers are in one area, and then have all the frying across the back wall. I’d also like to take the prep either off-site or maybe extend but, like I say, that’s a long-term plan. I’m not going to rush into anything.

We’ve also taken on a few extra staff, plus my wife Kim is now in the business full-time and she’s really enjoying it. She’s always been involved in the admin side, but she’s more hands-on now. She manages the team in-store, which takes the pressure off me as well. The shop is really busy, we’ve adjusted to it quite quickly and quite well and it’s just become the new normal.

I’ve also had lots of opportunities come my way over the past few months. One of the things I enjoy most is helping out with the young friers so I was pleased to take part in the Young Fish Frier workshop at the NFFF in Leeds for this year’s entrants. That took me back because that’s where my journey started. I was managing a fish and chip shop when I entered the award 10 years ago and I remember never really having the confidence to think I could start my own shop. After winning Drywite Young Fish Frier, literally that same month I was sitting down and doing business plans, even though I didn’t have a shop or any money behind me, it fuelled an ambition and a dream.

I’ve also had operators approach us, some have been in the trade a lot longer than me and have fallen out of love with it but, after spending a day with us, it has relit that flair for the fish and chip industry. We’ve also had a few youngsters from other shops come to us as well as new people considering opening fish and chip shops so it’s been great to help those people on their journeys. 

I’ve always helped out other shops, whether they are relatively local or far afield. To me, it’s about improving standards in fish and chips. I think if someone goes and eats fish and chips and it’s good quality, then all the good shops will sell more fish and chips overall. I look at that as a positive for the industry rather than thinking I’m not going to help this person because they might be a threat to my own business. In the long-run, it’s beneficial for us all.

There is a bit of doom and gloom at the moment surrounding fish and potato prices but it’s the same every year and we have to do what we always do, which is make sure the product we are serving is the best it can be and let that speak for itself. And price accordingly – if our prices have to go up again then that’s what we need to do to stay in business and hit the correct margin. 

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